Concerns over free falling Chinese rocket booster resolved without major incident weekend when the dreaded object plummeted to Earth and into the Pacific Ocean.
The U.S. Space Command reported that the debris from the Long March 5B rocket re-entered Earth’s atmosphere over the south-central Pacific Ocean at 4:01 a.m. MDT Friday.
Later, the agency said it could confirm a second atmospheric entry correlated with the rocket five minutes later as it exited the Space Command Area of Responsibility over the Northern Pacific Ocean region.
In response, Spain briefly closed the airspace over Catalonia and three other regions, causing hundreds of flight delays.
China’s most powerful rocket launched into space in October. It carried the Mengtian module into orbit to the core module of the country’s Tiangong space station.
This is not the first time China has played roulette with the core stage, which was allowed to reach orbit without a system to guide it back to a specific spot on Earth. In fact, it was the fourth uncontrolled re-entry since 2020.In July, a 25-ton Long March 5B core tumbled down over the Indian Ocean.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said China was taking unnecessary risks with the uncontrolled rocket stage re-entry.
“They did not share specific trajectory information, which is needed to predict landing zones and reduce risk. This is the PRC’s fourth uncontrolled re-entry since May 2020, and each of these re-entries have been the largest in last 30 years,” he said. “It is critical that all spacefaring nations are responsible and transparent in their space activities and follow established best practices, especially, for the uncontrolled re-entry of a large rocket body debris – debris that could very well result in major damage or loss of life.”
A Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson told Bloomberg News Thursday that Chinese officials were “releasing information to the international society with an open and transparent attitude.”
According to The New York Times, Zhao Lijian, a foreign ministry spokesman, on Friday rejected the notion that China’s handling of the rockets was unusual and said they had been designed with “special technology.”