Debris from a Chinese rocket is set to crash to Earth some time over the next few days, with the potential for wreckage to land across a wide swathe of the globe. Part of a Long March 5B rocket China launched on July 24 will make an uncontrolled reentry around July 31, according to the Aerospace Corp, a nonprofit based in California, that gets US funding.
The possible debris field includes much of the US, as well as Africa, Australia, Brazil, India and Southeast Asia, according to Aerospace’s predictions. Concern over the re-entry and the impact it could have is being dismissed by China, however, with state-backed media saying the warnings are just “sour grapes” from people resentful of the country’s development as a space power.
“The US is running out of ways to stop China’s development in the aerospace sector, so smears and defamation became the only things left for it,” Global Times newspaper reported, citing an expert.
The descent of the booster, which weighs 23 metric tons, would be part of what critics say is a series of uncontrolled crashes that highlights the risks of China’s escalating space race with the US. “Due to the uncontrolled nature of its descent, there is a non-zero probability of the surviving debris landing in a populated area – over 88% of the world’s population lives under the re-entry’s potential debris footprint,” Aerospace said on Tuesday. In May 2021, pieces of another Long March rocket landed in the Indian Ocean, prompting concern that the Chinese space agency had lost control of it. “It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding space debris,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson had said.
China is closely following the reentry of the booster from this week’s launch, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said in Beijing on Wednesday. “It is customary for international practice for rockets’ upper stages to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere on reentry,” said Zhao. “Right from the research and development stage of the space engineering programme, it is designed with consideration for debris mitigation and return from orbit.” Bloomberg