The remains of China’s largest rocket have crashed back to Earth and crashed into the Indian Ocean near the Maldives, according to Chinese state media, ending days of speculation about where the waste would hit.
Most of the debris burned up in the atmosphere, it reported, citing the Chinese-mandated space engineering office.
Parts of the 30-meter-long core of the Long March 5B rocket entered the atmosphere again at 1
Nasa was critical of China’s lack of transparency over the re – entry of the rocket, saying that space nations have a duty to minimize the risk to humans and property on Earth.
“It is clear that China does not meet responsible standards for its space debris,” said Nasa administrator Bill Nelson, a former senator and astronaut who was elected to the role in March.
“It is critical that China and all space nations and commercial entities act responsibly and transparently in space to ensure security, stability, security and long-term sustainability in outer space activities.”
The U.S. Space Command confirmed re-entry into the atmosphere of the rocket over the Arabian Peninsula, but said it was unknown whether the debris had hit land or water. “The exact location of the impact and wastewater, both of which are unknown at this time, will not be released by the U.S. Space Command,” it said in a statement.
Space guards around the world have been expecting the arrival of the Long March 5B space rocket since it began losing altitude last week due to concerns that it was out of control. It is one of the largest pieces of space debris returning to Earth, and encouraged the White House to call for “responsible space behavior.” China’s inability to issue strong security guarantees in the run-up to re-entry gave rise to concern.
During the rocket’s flight, Harvard-based astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell told Reuters that the potential waste zone could have been as far north as New York, Madrid or Beijing and as far south as southern Chile and Wellington, New Zealand.
“It makes Chinese rocket designers look lazy that they have not addressed this,” said McDowell, a member of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
The Global Times, a Chinese tabloid published by the official People’s Daily, dismissed as “Western hype” worries that the rocket was “out of control” and could cause damage.
“It is common practice all over the world that the upper phases of rockets burn up as they re-enter the atmosphere,” Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said at a regular media briefing on Friday.
“To my knowledge, the upper phase of this rocket has been deactivated, meaning most of its parts will burn up upon re-entry, making the likelihood of damage to aviation or ground facilities and activities extremely low,” Wang said at the time.
The long March 5B – consisting of a core stage and four boosters – is lifted from China’s Hainan Island on April 29 with the unmanned Tianhe module, which contains what will be housing on a permanent Chinese space station. The rocket is set to be followed by another 10 missions to complete the station.
The empty core step has lost height since last week, and experts estimated its dry weight to be around 18 to 22 tons.
Long rockets from March 5 have been integrated into China’s short-term space ambitions – from the delivery of modules and crew on the planned space station to launches of exploratory probes to the moon and even Mars. The Long March, launched last week, was the second implementation of the 5B variant since its first flight in May last year.
In May 2020, pieces from the first Long March 5B fell off the Ivory Coast, damaging several buildings. No injuries were reported.
Waste from Chinese rocket launches is not uncommon in China. In late April, authorities in the city of Shiyan, Hubei province, issued a statement to people in the surrounding county preparing for evacuation as parts were expected to land in the area.
“The long March 5B re-entry is unusual because the first phase of the rocket during launch reached orbital velocity instead of dropping in range, as is common practice,” Aerospace Corporation said in a blog post.
The core stage of the first Long March 5B, which returned to Earth last year, weighed nearly 20 tons, surpassed by waste from the Columbia space shuttle in 2003, the Soviet Union’s Salyut 7 space station in 1991 and NASA’s Skylab in 1979.