A powerful Chinese rocket crashed after an “accidental launch” during a ground test on Sunday due to a structural failure, a private company responsible for the rocket said.

Space Pioneer, also known as Beijing Tianbing Technology, said in a statement that the Tianlong-3 rocket was unexpectedly launched during a static-fire test at a facility in Gongyi county in Henan province.

Luckily it landed in a hilly area of the city of Gongyi and the company said there were no injuries as people in the area were evacuated in advance of the rocket test.

The nine engines of the rocket, stated to be the most powerful in the country, fired in the afternoon on Sunday were lifted off because of a “structural failure at the connection between the rocket body and the test platform”, the company said.

Space Pioneer is one of several private aerospace companies that are developing medium-lift, reusable rockets to help China assemble its satellite constellations comparable to SpaceX’s Starlink.

Residents in flats in the county-level city of Gongyi posted footage online showing the rocket climbing into the sky, leaving a trail of thick smoke before falling back to the ground on its side, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported Sunday.

The crash of the kerosene-liquid oxygen-propelled rocket caused a huge explosion.

Some space observers criticised Space Pioneer for “making a low-level mistake” and posing an imminent danger to residents.

“It was apparently not far from the densely-populated area of Gongyi, and the rocket was out of control,” one user of Chinese social media Weibo wrote.

“However, the company did not even call it an accident in their statement. Instead, they were busy talking about the rocket parameters,” the user said according to the Post.

“Due to the structural failure of the connection between the rocket body and the test platform, the first-stage rocket was separated from the launch pad,” Space Pioneer was quoted in the Hong Kong media.

“After lift-off, the on-board computer was automatically shut down, and the rocket fell into the deep mountains 1.5 kms southwest of the test platform. The rocket body fell into the mountain and disintegrated,” the company said.

The rocket`s product performance is comparable to SpaceX’s Falcon 9, Space Pioneer said, adding that it will be capable of launching the rocket over 30 times per year after the rocket’s first successful flight.

The incident happened days after China’s Chang’e-6 lunar probe brought first-ever samples from the far side of the moon.

Space Pioneer said the test site was far away from the city.

“Before the test, we worked with the local government to improve safety measures and organised the evacuation of people in surrounding areas in advance. After investigations, there were no casualties,” it said.

The company said the rocket generated a combined thrust of 820 tonnes during the test – surpassing the 400 or so tonnes of combined thrust of other Chinese reusable rockets. PTI KJV ZH AKJ ZH ZH ZH

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