Chinese space rocket debris crashes back to Earth over ocean

Onlookers watch the launch of a rocket carrying China’s second module for its Tiangong space station, on July 24, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - Remnants from a massive Chinese rocket booster crashed back to Earth on Saturday (July 30) over the Indian Ocean, space officials from the US and China confirmed.

It remains unclear what path the debris from the booster might take, US Space Command said on Twitter on Saturday, referring questions to the Chinese government.

China's spaceflight agency said wreckage of the 23-metric-tonne Long March 5B hit Earth over the sea in the southwestern Philippines with the "vast majority" of the debris burning up upon reentry, according to a brief statement that was criticised by a US official.

"The People's Republic of China (PRC) did not share specific trajectory information as their Long March 5B rocket fell back to Earth," Nasa Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement.

"All spacefaring nations should follow established best practices and do their part to share this type of information in advance to allow reliable predictions of potential debris impact risk, especially for heavy-lift vehicles, like the Long March 5B, which carry a significant risk of loss of life and property," Nelson said.

Experts had deemed the possibility of injury or infrastructure damage to be low.

The rocket body had been in an elliptical orbit around Earth and was "dragged toward an uncontrolled reentry," to Earth's atmosphere, according to the Aerospace Corporation, a nonprofit corporation based in El Segundo, California, that provides technical advice for space missions and receives US funding.

Before re-entry, experts predicted that while much of the massive booster would burn up upon reentering Earth's atmosphere, huge chunks - as much as 40 per cent - would survive and fall to oceans or the ground.

Some projections had shown a ground track that crossed parts of Mexico and Brazil, then skirted the Cape of Africa before passing over land in South-east Asia.

This is the third uncontrolled entry by a Chinese rocket booster in as many years.

In May 2021, pieces of another Long March rocket landed in the Indian Ocean, prompting concern that the Chinese space agency had lost control of it.

Experts have stressed that uncontrolled re-entries are avoidable.

SpaceX rocket boosters, for example, make vertical landings and are then captured, refurbished and reused in subsequent launches.

China has dismissed Western concerns over the debris, calling it a smear effort as the US-China space race escalates.

"The US and Western media deliberately exaggerate and exaggerate the 'loss-of-control' of the Chinese rocket debris and the probability of personal injury caused by the rocket debris, obviously with bad intentions," Shanghai-based news site said on Tuesday.

The Long March 5B rocket took off July 24 carrying one of the heaviest payloads in recent years, a module for China's under-construction Tiangong space station

The Chinese space station was started after the US barred Beijing from participating in the International Space Station.

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