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Chinese rocket launch reported to have failed, destroying cutting-edge earth observation satellite

A Chinese space launch has reportedly failed, resulting in the loss of one of the country’s most advanced earth observation satellites, in what would be the first such failure since 2013.

A Long March 4C rocket blasted off from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre in Shanxi on Thursday morning but aihangtian.com, a website built and run by Chinese professional astronautic experts and space enthusiasts, said it failed to insert its payload, the Gaofen-10 satellite, into its designated orbit.

The police department of neighbouring Shaanxi province also posted photos on its social media account of a search and recovery mission for debris on Thursday, in which the launch was dubbed a “failure”.

The entry was later removed from Weibo.

The Gaofen series satellites are designed to give China a global network of earth observation satellites with high-definition, all-weather, 24-hour intelligence gathering capabilities for military and civilian users by 2020.

The network is designed to be able to monitor any spot on earth.

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The Gaofen-10 carried the newest generation of optical sensors developed by Chinese researchers. It was to operate in a Sun-synchronous orbit and cross the equator 12 times a day.

The problem reportedly occurred with the final rocket boost.

A possible mechanical glitch in the third stage of the rocket caused the satellite to lose speed and plunge back to earth, where most of it burned up re-entering the atmosphere, according to the aihangtian.com report.

Official news media have not disclosed information on the success or failure of the launch.

CCTV broadcast footage of the rocket taking off from the launch pad but did not carry any follow-up reports, which a Chinese space expert said indirectly confirmed the mission’s failure.

“The Taiyuan satellite centre is used to launch spacecraft and rockets using the newest technology, and new means risk,” said the space scientist, who declined to be named.

“It is a bad day for space flight,” the expert added, referring to the explosion of a US SpaceX rocket on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida, the same day.

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In December 2013, the launch of an earth observation satellite jointly built by China and Brazil aboard a Long March rocket failed because of a rocket malfunction.

Nonetheless, the Long March series is claimed by the Chinese government to be the world’s safest rocket, with nearly 20 launches per year in recent years and a success rate of more than 96 per cent.