Comment on this story
China said its most powerful rocket fell back to earth as NASA criticized Beijing for not sharing key data on its trajectory.
The Long March-5B rocket, which weighs more than 1.8 million pounds, launched from Wenchang Cosmodrome on July 24 and carried another module to China’s first permanent space station, Tiangong, which is under construction.
The “vast majority” of the rocket’s debris burned up upon re-entry into the atmosphere around 12:55 a.m., the China Manned Space Agency said in a statement on its official Weibo social media account on Sunday.
The rest “landed in the sea” at 119.0 degrees East and 9.1 degrees North, it said. These coordinates are in the waters off the island of Palawan, southeast of the Philippine city of Puerto Princesa. China’s statement did not say whether debris fell on land.
Experts were concerned that the massive size of the 176-foot rocket and the risky design of its launch process would mean its debris would not burn up when it reentered Earth’s atmosphere. The rocket jettisoned its empty 23-ton first stage into orbit and orbited the planet for days as it neared landing on an unpredictable trajectory.
Debris from China’s crash-landed rocket launch — and no one knows where
The United States said China was taking a significant risk by uncontrollably dropping the missile to Earth without deliberating on its possible path.
“The People’s Republic of China did not share specific trajectory information when its Long March 5B rocket fell back to earth,” tweeted NASA Administrator Bill Nelson on Saturday.
“All spacefaring nations should follow established best practices and do their part to share this type of information in advance to enable reliable predictions of the potential risk of debris impact, particularly for heavy-duty vehicles like the Long March 5B, which pose a significant risk Loss of life and property,” he continued. “This is critical to using space responsibly and keeping people safe here on Earth.
Ahead of the rocket’s re-entry, China tried to allay fears that debris would pose a risk to the public, predicting parts from the core phase were likely to end up in the sea.
US criticism of China over space debris has been going on for a long time. “It is clear that China is not meeting responsible standards regarding its space debris,” said a statement released by NASA earlier this year.
China’s position that debris was unlikely to cause serious damage was supported by some experts. According to an article published this month in the journal Nature Astronomy, there would be a 1 in 10 chance of someone dying or being injured from parts of a rocket in the next ten years. However, many believe that launch designs like the Long March 5B represent an unnecessary risk.
Last week, China’s state-run Global Times newspaper accused the West of showing “sour grapes” and trying to discredit its space efforts in space. The article accused the United States of waging a “smear campaign” against the “robust development of China’s aerospace sector.”