Spectators watch as the Long March-5B Y3 rocket carrying Wentian, the laboratory module of the Chinese Space Station, launches from the Wenchang Space Station in China on July 24, 2022. China launched one of two laboratory modules to complete its permanent orbital space station on Sunday.
Luo Yunfei | China News Service | Getty Images
A Chinese rocket landed over the Indian Ocean on Saturday, but NASA said Beijing did not share the “specific trajectory information” needed to know where possible debris might land.
The US Space Command said the Long March 5B rocket re-entered over the Indian Ocean at about 12:45 a.m. EDT (1645 GMT) on Saturday, but referred questions to China about “technical aspects of the re-entry, such as the potential debris impact site.”
“All spacefaring nations should follow established best practices and do their part to share this type of information in advance to make reliable predictions of potential debris impact risk,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “Doing so is critical to the responsible use of space and the safety of people on Earth.”
Social media users in Malaysia posted a video of what appeared to be missile debris.
Aerospace Corp., a nonprofit government-funded research center near Los Angeles, said it was reckless to allow the rocket’s entire main nuclear stage — weighing 22.5 tons (about 48,500 pounds) — to return to Earth unattended.
Analysts said earlier this week that the missile body will disintegrate as it enters the atmosphere, but is so large that many pieces will survive re-entry into the rain debris about 70 km across the 2,000-km (1,240-mile) stretch. (44 miles) wide.
China’s embassy in Washington did not immediately comment. China said earlier this week it would closely monitor the damage, but said there was little risk to anyone on the ground.
The Long March 5B blasted off on July 24 to deliver a laboratory module to a new Chinese space station under construction in orbit, marking the third flight of China’s most powerful rocket since its first launch in 2020.
In 2020, pieces of another Chinese Long March 5B landed in Ivory Coast, damaging several buildings in the West African country, but no injuries were reported.
By contrast, he said, the United States and most other space-faring nations are spending extra to design their rockets to avoid large, uncontrolled re-entries — an imperative seen after large chunks of NASA’s Skylab space station fell to the ground. In 1979, it went into orbit and landed in Australia.
Last year, NASA and others accused China of being opaque after the Beijing government remained silent on the estimated debris trajectory or re-entry window of the last Long March rocket flight in May 2021.
Debris from that flight fell harmlessly into the Indian Ocean.