A Chinese booster rocket on Saturday made an uncontrolled return to Earth, leading US officials to chide Beijing for not sharing information about the potentially hazardous object’s descent.
US Space Command “can confirm the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Long March 5B (CZ-5B) re-entered over the Indian Ocean at approx 10:45 am MDT on 7/30,” the US military unit wrote on Twitter.
“We refer you to the #PRC for further details on the reentry’s technical aspects such as potential debris dispersal+ impact location,” it added.
In a statement posted to WeChat, the China Manned Space Agency later gave coordinates for an impact area in the Sulu Sea, about 57km off the Philippines’ Palawan Island.
“Most of its devices were ablated and destroyed during re-entry,” the agency said of the booster rocket, which was used on July 24 to launch the second of three modules China needed to complete its new Tiangong space station.
The Malaysian National Space Agency said it detected rocket debris burning up on re-entry before falling in the Sulu Sea northeast of the island of Borneo.
“The debris of the rocket caught fire while entering the Earth’s airspace and the movement of the burning debris also crossed Malaysian airspace and could be detected in several areas including crossing the airspace around the state of Sarawak,” it said.
Social media users in Malaysia posted video of what appeared to be rocket debris.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said that Beijing’s failure to share details of the rocket’s descent was irresponsible and risky.
“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,” he wrote on Twitter.
“Doing so is critical to the responsible use of space and to ensure the safety of people here on Earth,” he added.
Aerospace Corp, a US-funded nonprofit research center near Los Angeles, said it was reckless to allow the rocket’s entire main-core stage — which weighs about 22 tonnes — to return to Earth in an uncontrolled re-entry.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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