In this file photo published by the Chinese news agency Xinhua on April 29, 2021, a Long March 5B rocket with a module for a Chinese space station takes off from the launch site for spacecraft in Wenchang in Wenchang in the southern Chinese province of Hainan. Ju Zhenhua / AP Hide caption
Ju Zhenhua / AP
Ju Zhenhua / AP
BEIJING (AP) – China’s space agency said a core segment of its largest rocket re-entered the earth’s atmosphere over the Maldives in the Indian Ocean and burned most of it early Sunday.
Harvard astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, who tracked the part of the tumbling rocket, said on Twitter: “Ocean re-entry has always been statistically the most likely. It seems that China has won its gamble … but it was still ruthless. “
China’s official Xinhua news agency said the re-entry was at 7:24 p.m. local time on Saturday. “The vast majority of items were burned beyond recognition during re-entry,” the report said.
Even so, NASA Senator Bill Nelson issued a statement saying, “It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards for its space debris.”
Typically, discarded rocket stages re-enter the atmosphere shortly after take-off, usually over water, and do not enter orbit.
The Long March 5B rocket put the main module of Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony, into orbit on April 29th. China is planning ten more launches to put additional parts of the space station into orbit.
The approximately 30-meter-long stage is one of the largest pieces of space debris that falls to earth.
The 18-ton rocket that fell last May was the heaviest debris to fall uncontrollably since the former Soviet Salyut 7 space station in 1991.
China’s first space station, Tiangong-1, crashed into the Pacific Ocean in 2016 after Beijing confirmed it had lost control. In 2019, the space agency controlled the demolition of its second station, Tiangong-2, in the atmosphere.
In March, debris from a Falcon 9 rocket launched by US carrier SpaceX fell to Earth in Washington and on the Oregon coast.
China has been heavily criticized after it sent a missile to destroy a defunct weather satellite in January 2007, creating a large field of dangerous debris that endangers satellites and other spacecraft.