China: Long Mars-5B rocket debris falls back to Earth, lands in sea

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China said its most powerful rocket fell back to Earth when NASA criticized Beijing for failing to share crucial data about its trajectory.

The Long March-5B rocket, which weighs more than 1.8 million pounds, was launched on July 24 from the Wenchang spaceport 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 during reentry at around 12:55 p.m., the China Manned Space Agency said in a statement on its official Weibo social media account.

The rest “landed in the sea” at 119.0° East and 9.1° North, it said. These coordinates are in the waters of the island of Palawan, southeast of the Philippine city of Puerto Princesa. China’s statement does not say whether debris has fallen on the country.

Experts were concerned that the sheer size of the 176-foot rocket and the risky design of the launch process would mean the debris wouldn’t burn when it reentered Earth’s atmosphere. The rocket launched its empty 23-ton first stage into orbit, keeping the planet in a loop for days as it nears landing in an unpredictable flight path.

Debris from Chinese rocket launch to emergency landing – and no one knows where

The United States said China was taking a significant risk by dropping the missile uncontrollably to Earth with no advice on its possible path.

“The People’s Republic of China did not share specific trajectory information when their Long March 5B rocket fell back to Earth,” tweeted NASA administrator Bill Nelson on Saturday.

“All space countries should follow established best practices and do their part to share this kind of information in advance to enable reliable predictions of the potential risk of debris impact, especially for heavy vehicles, such as the Long March 5B, which is a involve significant risk. of the loss of life and property,” he continued. “This is critical to the responsible use of space and to ensure the safety of people here on Earth.

Ahead of the missile’s return, China tried to allay fears that debris posed a risk to the public, predicting that pieces from the nuclear phase would likely end up in the sea.

US criticism of China when it comes to space debris has been going on for a long time. “It is clear that China is not meeting responsible standards with regard to their space debris,” said a statement released by NASA earlier this year.

China’s view that debris is unlikely to cause serious damage has been supported by some experts. According to an article published this month in the journal Nature Astronomy, the odds of someone dying or being injured by parts of a rocket are 1 in 10 in the next decade. But many believe launch designs like the Long March 5Bs are an unnecessary risk.

Last week, China’s state newspaper the Global Times accused the West of showing “sour grapes” and trying to discredit its space efforts in space. The article accused the United States of leading a “smear campaign” against the “robust development of China’s aerospace sector”.

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