Commercial satellite footage from October 2021 shows that an explosion significantly damaged rocket facilities at China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The Gobi Desert’s Jiuquan spaceport supports large orbital launches, including the country’s Shenzhou human spaceflight missions. It was the first of China’s 4 major spaceports to open in 1958.
Harry Stranger, a space enthusiast, discovered evidence of the explosion utilizing imagery from CNES and Airbus and shared it on Twitter on June 10. The event happened about 16 kilometers southwest of Jiuquan’s two main launch complexes. The detonation had little effect on the two launch pads utilized by CASC (China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation) for hypergolic Long March rocket deployments for human spaceflight, military, civil, and research missions.
In October 2021, high-resolution photographs show the facilities, which may have been used to test solid rocket motors. A photograph from November 2021 shows the apparent wreckage of an explosion.
According to additional satellite footage obtained by SpaceNews from Planet’s Super Dove satellites, this explosion occured between 0316 UTC on October 15 and 0407 UTC on October 16.
The Shenzhou-13 crewed mission launched from Jiuquan at 16:23 UTC on October 15 (12:23 p.m. Eastern), indicating that the blast had minimal or no impact on CASC, China’s primary space contractor, and its significant activities.
The incident seemed to have gone unnoticed by Chinese media. As a result, it’s uncertain what the facilities were utilized for or what triggered the explosion. The structures were most likely used for testing as well as assembly of solid rockets by non-CASC companies, based on the profile of deployments at Jiuquan. In September of 2018, work on the test facilities began.
CASIC, a state-owned defense contractor with space ambitions, is building a range of solid rockets for orbital deployments and has developed infrastructure at Jiuquan for deployments of the Kuaizhou-1A as well as bigger Kuaizhou-11 rockets which is using transport erector launchers instead of a service structure and launch pad.
Both of these failed to launch. Following a return to flying earlier in the autumn, the former failed in December 2021. The Kuaizhou-11 was grounded after its first and sole deployment in 2020.
According to previous sources, the Kuaizhou-11 was set to fly again before the close of 2021. According to a press statement from CASIC subsidiary Expace, the final assembly for deployment was underway in August. There has been no report of such a launch attempt.