China’s Long March 5B Y2 rocket with the core module of the Chinese Tianhe space station will be launched on April 29, 2021 in Wenchang, Hainan Province, from the spacecraft launch site in Wenchang.
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Debris from a large Chinese rocket landed in the Indian Ocean on Sunday, according to the China Manned Space Engineering Office, which said most of the parts were burned upon reentry.
The uncontrolled nature of the rocket’s fall to Earth had made experts concerned about its potential impact on populated areas. Earlier this week, some space trackers had predicted that they could have landed as far north as New York.
The Chinese agency announced early Sunday that the rocket, named Long March 5B, reentered the atmosphere at 10:24 a.m., Beijing time, and landed at a location with coordinates of 72.47 degrees East and 2.65 degrees North be. This would mean that the point of impact would be in the Indian Ocean west of the Maldives archipelago.
“The vast majority of the device was burned during reentry, and the debris landing area is near a sea area with a center of latitude 2.65 degrees north and longitude 72.47 degrees east,” a statement from China said Manned Space Engineering Office on its website.
The US Space Command said in a statement that Long March 5B returned via the Arabian Peninsula on May 8 at around 10:15 p.m. CET. “It is not known whether the debris hit land or water,” it said.
The rocket was launched on April 29 at the Wenchang Space Launch Center in southern China’s Hainan Province. It was 98 feet long and 16.5 feet wide and weighed 21 tons.
Its mission was to put a module with living quarters into orbit for a future Chinese space station. Upon completion of this task, the missile body orbited the Earth uncontrollably before reentering the lower atmosphere.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a press conference on Friday that it was “common” around the world for the upper stages of rockets to burn as they reenter the atmosphere.
WENCHANG, CHINA – APRIL 29, 2021: A long Y2 rocket dated March 5, 2017 carrying the Tianhe module for the Chinese space station will be launched from the Wenchang spacecraft launch site in Wenchang on Thursday, April 29, 2021 south China’s Hainan Province.
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“China is closely monitoring the re-entry of the upper stage into the atmosphere. To the best of my knowledge, the upper stage of this missile has been deactivated, which means that most of its parts will burn on re-entry and the likelihood of damage to aviation or ground facilities and activities extremely low” he said, according to a translation on the ministry’s website.
On Thursday, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin lamented the negligence in crashing the missile to Earth, saying Washington had no plans to shoot it down.
“I think this speaks to the fact that for those of us who work in space there is a requirement – there should be a requirement – to work in a safe and thoughtful mode and make sure we embrace that way of things that are taken into account when planning and performing operations, “he told reporters.
In a statement shortly after the debris landed, NASA Senator Bill Nelson said it was clear that China was “failing to meet responsible standards for its space debris.”
“It is important that China and all space nations and trading companies in space act responsibly and transparently to ensure the safety, stability and long-term sustainability of space activities,” he said.
In fact, it is common for rockets and space debris to fall back to Earth, and experts say the chances of actually being hit are very slim. According to Reuters, parts of the first long March 5B fell on the Ivory Coast, Africa last year, damaging several buildings with no injuries reported.