Nasa criticises China after space rocket makes uncontrolled return to Earth | China

A Chinese booster rocket made an uncontrolled return to Earth on Saturday, US defense department officials said, as they chided Beijing for not sharing information on the potentially hazardous object’s descent.

US Space Command confirmed the Long March 5B rocket re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere over the Indian ocean on Saturday but referred any question regarding potential debris dispersal and impact location to 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 criticised Beijing on Saturday, saying the failure to share the 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,” Nelson tweeted, “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.”

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Aerospace Corp, a government-funded nonprofit research centre near Los Angeles, said it was reckless to allow the rocket’s entire main-core stage – which weighs 22.5 tonnes – to return to Earth in an uncontrolled re-entry.

In the past week, analysts said the rocket body would disintegrate as it plunged through the atmosphere but was large enough that numerous chunks were likely to survive a fiery re-entry to rain debris over an area some 2,000km (1,240 miles) long by about 70km (44 miles) wide.

The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately comment. China said earlier this week it would closely track the debris but that it posed little risk to anyone on the ground.

Fragments of another Chinese Long March 5B landed on the Ivory Coast in 2020, damaging several buildings in that west African nation, though no injuries were reported.

The US and most other space-faring nations generally go to the added expense of designing their rockets to avoid large, uncontrolled re-entries – an imperative largely observed since large chunks of the Nasa space station Skylab fell from orbit in 1979 and landed in Australia.

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The Tiangong space station is one of the crown jewels of Beijing’s ambitious space program, which has landed robotic rovers on Mars and the Moon, and made China only the third nation to put humans in orbit.

The new module, propelled by the Long March 5B, successfully docked with Tiangong’s 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 poured billions of dollars into 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

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