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Chinese cargo spacecraft makes uncontrolled descent toward Earth; debris re-enters Indian Ocean

Chinese cargo spacecraft 'Long March-5B Y3' was launched on the coast of the southern island province of Hainan at 2:22 pm (Beijing Time).

Vani Mehrotra Edited By: Vani Mehrotra @vani_mehrotra New Delhi Published on: July 31, 2022 7:53 IST
Chinese rocket, China spacecraft
Image Source : AP Image from Beijing Aerospace Control Center shows Tianzhou-3 cargo craft, right, separating from the orbiting station combination

Highlights

  • CMSA confirmed that the Wentian separated from the rocket
  • It then successfully entered the planned orbit
  • This is the 3rd time China has been accused of not properly handling space debris from rocket stage

Chinese cargo spacecraft's debris re-entered Earth's atmosphere over the Indian Ocean at 12:45 pm Eastern time, the US Space Command said on Saturday. 

The 23-ton Long March-5B Y3 carrier rocket, carrying Wentian on July 24 from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site, was launched by China on the coast of the southern island province of Hainan at 2:22 pm (Beijing Time), according to the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA).

CMSA confirmed that the Wentian separated from the rocket and successfully entered the planned orbit.

The rocket had since been in an uncontrolled descent toward Earth's atmosphere -- marking the third time that China has been accused of not properly handling space debris from its rocket stage, reports said.

Since then space watchers were tracking the stage path of the rocket in Earth's orbit because of the slight possibility that it could come down over a populated area.

An astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Jonathan McDowell said, "No other country leaves these 20-ton things in orbit to reenter in an uncontrolled way."

Soon after US Command confirmed the reentry, NASA Administrator, Bill Nelson, issued a statement on Twitter that China "did not share specific trajectory information as their Long March 5B rocket fell back to Earth."

He said that all spacefaring nations should follow established best practices and countries should "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."

"Doing so is critical to the responsible use of space and to ensure the safety of people here on Earth," Nelson added.

In a statement, the China Manned Space Agency said remnants of the rocket reentered the atmosphere at about 12:55 a.m. Sunday Beijing time -- or about 12:55 pm ET Saturday.

The agency added most of the remnants burned up during the reentry process over the Sulu Sea, a body of water between the island of Borneo and the Philippines.

People in Sarawak, a province of Malaysia on the island of Borneo, reported sightings of the rocket debris on social media, with many believing the pyrotechnics at first to be a meteor shower or a comet.

Video posted online appears to show images of the rocket booster burning up in the atmosphere over Malaysia, CNN reported.

Notably, this was the third flight of Long March 5B, China's largest rocket and the 24th flight mission since the country's manned space program was approved and initiated.

The construction of China's Tiangong space station is expected to be completed this year. It will then evolve from a single-module structure into a national space laboratory with three modules -- the core module, Tianhe, and two lab modules, Wentian and Mengtian, as per the local media.

The Tianhe module was launched in April 2021, and the Mengtian module is set to be launched in October this year. 

(With inputs from ANI)

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