A Chinese booster rocket made an uncontrolled return to Earth on Saturday, US Defense Department officials said, as they berated Beijing for not sharing information about the potentially dangerous object’s descent.
US Space Command confirmed that the Long March 5B rocket re-entered Earth’s atmosphere over the Indian Ocean on Saturday, but referred any questions about the potential scattering of debris and the location of impact to the China.
The Long March 5B rocket was used last Sunday to launch an uncrewed spacecraft, named Wentian, carrying the second of three modules China needed to complete its new Tiangong space station.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson criticized Beijing on Saturday, saying not sharing details of the rocket’s descent was irresponsible and risky.
“All space nations should follow established best practices and do their part to share this type of information in advance,” Nelson tweeted, “to enable reliable predictions of potential debris impact risk, particularly for heavy vehicles, like the Long March 5B., which carry a significant risk of loss of life and property.
“This is essential for the responsible use of space and for keeping people safe here on Earth.”
Aerospace Corp, a government-funded nonprofit research center near Los Angeles, said it was unwise to allow the entire main stage of the rocket – which weighs 22.5 tonnes – to return to Earth during an uncontrolled re-entry.
Over the past week, analysts said the rocket body would disintegrate as it plunged through the atmosphere, but was large enough that many pieces were likely to survive a fiery re-entry to rain debris down on it. an area about 2,000 km (1,240 miles) long by about 70 km (44 miles) wide.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately comment. China said earlier this week it would closely monitor the debris, but it posed little risk to anyone on the ground.
Fragments of another Chinese Long March 5B landed in Ivory Coast in 2020, damaging several buildings in the West African country, although no injuries were reported.
The United States and most other space nations typically go to extra expense to design their rockets to avoid large, uncontrolled re-entries — an imperative widely observed since large chunks of the Nasa Skylab space station fell from orbit in 1979 and landed in Australia. .
The Tiangong Space Station is one of the jewels of Beijing’s ambitious space program, which has landed robotic rovers on Mars and the Moon, and made China the third nation to put humans into orbit.
The new module, powered by the Long March 5B, successfully docked with the Tiangong Core Module on Monday, and the three astronauts who had been living in the main compartment since June successfully entered the new lab.
China has invested billions of dollars in space flight and exploration as it seeks to build a program that reflects its stature as a rising global power.
With Agence France-Presse and Reuters