China's uncontrollable rocket collides into the Indian Ocean
Image Source - Twitter

China’s uncontrollable rocket collides into the Indian Ocean

The uncontrollable Long March 5B rocket from China reentered the Earth’s atmosphere over the Indian Ocean, landing probably near Sarawak, Malaysia’s state on the island of Borneo.

The re-entry of the rocket was verified by the US Space Command at 12:45 p.m. ET, however, it is unknown where its debris landed. According to a translated post on Weibo by China’s Manned Space Agency, the rocket reentered the same place and burnt up most of the way down.

China launched a lab module to its unfinished Tiangong space station on July 24th, using a Long March 5B rocket. Unlike other rockets, the Long March 5B uses its first stage to propel its cargo into orbit. This chunk, which is more than 100 feet long and weighs more than 22 tonnes, circles the Earth for a while before plummeting down to Earth, with no method of controlling its path.

Uncertainty over where the rocket would land spread around the world this week, with forecasts ranging from Mexico to the southern point of Africa. This is China’s third Long March 5B launch, and its third crash landing. China sent Tiangong’s core module into orbit in 2020 using a Long March 5B rocket. The rocket’s debris landed in the Ivory Coast, and although no casualties were recorded, structural damage was sustained. China launched its first lab module atop a Long March 5B last year, with bits of it crashing down in the Indian Ocean. Malaysian Twitter users caught the rocket’s apparent return, with some mistaking it for a meteor. According to Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, debris from the rocket may wind up near Sibu, Bintulu, or Brunei, three cities on Borneo’s northern shore, but it’s “unlikely” that it landed in a populated region.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson issued a message on Twitter in response to the uncontrolled landing. Nelson states, “The People’s Republic of China did not release detailed trajectory information when its Long March 5B rocket came back to Earth. All spacefaring nations should adhere to established best practices and do their part to share this type of information in advance to allow reliable predictions of potential debris impact risk, particularly for heavy-lift vehicles such as the Long March 5B, which carry a significant risk of loss of life and property.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t the last time an out-of-control rocket will fall on Earth. China intends to launch its third and final module to Tiangong in October using a Long March 5B rocket and will use the rocket again in 2023 to carry a telescope into orbit.

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