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Large Chinese rocket segment disintegrates over Indian Ocean
(FILES) In this file photo taken on April 29, 2021, a Long March 5B rocket, carrying China's Tianhe space station core module, lifts off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in southern China's Hainan province. China said on May 7, 2021 the risk of damage on Earth from a rocket which fell out of orbit after separating from Beijing's space station was "extremely low", after the United States warned it could crash down onto an inhabited area.
AFP/STR

Large Chinese rocket segment disintegrates over Indian Ocean

Laurie Chen (Agence France-Presse) - May 9, 2021 - 2:34pm

BEIJING, China — A large segment of a Chinese rocket re-entered the Earth's atmosphere and disintegrated over the Indian Ocean on Sunday, the Chinese space agency said, following fevered speculation over where the 18-tonne object would come down.

Officials in Beijing had said there was little risk from the freefalling segment of the Long March-5B rocket, which had launched the first module of China's new space station into Earth orbit on April 29.

But the US space agency NASA and some experts said China had behaved irresponsibly, as an uncontrolled re-entry of such a large object risked damage and casualties.

"After monitoring and analysis, at 10:24 (0224 GMT) on May 9, 2021, the last-stage wreckage of the Long March 5B Yao-2 launch vehicle has re-entered the atmosphere," the China Manned Space Engineering Office said in a statement, providing coordinates for a point in the Indian Ocean near the Maldives.

It added that most of the segment disintegrated and was destroyed during descent.

The US military's Space Command said the rocket "re-entered over the Arabian Peninsula at approximately 10:15 pm EDT on May 8 (0215 GMT Sunday)".

"It is unknown if the debris impacted land or water."

Monitoring service Space-Track, which uses US military data, said that the location in Saudi Arabia was where American systems last recorded it.

"Operators confirm that the rocket actually went into the Indian Ocean north of the Maldives," it tweeted.

The segment's descent matched expert predictions that any debris would have splashed down into the ocean, given that 70 percent of the planet is covered by water.

Because it was an uncontrolled descent, there was widespread public interest and speculation about where the debris would land.

American and European space authorities were among those tracking the rocket and trying to predict its re-entry.

Accusations of negligence

Objects generate immense amounts of heat and friction when they enter the atmosphere, which can cause them to burn up and disintegrate. But larger ones such as the Long March-5B may not be destroyed entirely.

Their wreckage can land on the surface of the planet and may cause damage and casualties, though that risk is low.

Last year, debris from another Chinese Long March rocket fell on villages in the Ivory Coast, causing structural damage but no injuries or deaths.

That, and the one that came down Sunday, are tied for the fourth-biggest objects in history to undergo an uncontrolled re-entry, according to data from Harvard-based astronomer Jonathan McDowell.

The uncertainty and risks of such a re-entry sparked accusations that Beijing had behaved irresponsibly.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin suggested last week that China had been negligent, and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson echoed that after the re-entry on Sunday.

"Spacefaring nations must minimize the risks to people and property on Earth of re-entries of space objects and maximize transparency regarding those operations," Nelson said in a statement.

"It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris."

China's space ambitions

To avoid such scenarios, some experts have recommended a redesign of the Long March-5B rocket — which is not equipped for a controlled descent.

"An ocean reentry was always statistically the most likely," McDowell tweeted.

"It appears China won its gamble (unless we get news of debris in the Maldives). But it was still reckless."

Chinese authorities had downplayed the risk, however.

"The probability of causing harm to aviation activities or (on people and activities) on the ground is extremely low," foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Friday.

Beijing has poured billions of dollars into space exploration to boost its global stature and technological might.

The launch of the first module of its space station — by the Long March rocket that came down Sunday — was a milestone in its ambitious plan to establish a permanent human presence in space. — with Qasim Nauman in Seoul

CHINA
As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: June 15, 2021 - 10:35am

Monitor major developments on space explorations and the status of missions.

June 15, 2021 - 10:35am

The first crew for China's new space station prepared to blast off this week for the latest step in Beijing's ambitious programme to establish itself as a space power.

The mission is China's first crewed spaceflight in nearly five years, and a matter of prestige for the government as it prepares to mark the 100th birthday of the ruling Communist Party on July 1 with a propaganda blitz.

A Long March-2F rocket carrying three astronauts in the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft is slated to lift off from a base in northwest China's Gobi desert on Thursday, according to experts with knowledge of the matter.

They plan to spend three months on the Tiangong station, China's longest crewed space mission to date, with spacewalks among their tasks.

The astronauts will aim to "get their new home in space kitted out and ready to use," said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. — AFP

June 13, 2021 - 9:12am

An unnamed bidder pays $28 million at auction Saturday for a seat on board the first crewed spaceflight of Jeff Bezos' company Blue Origin on July 20, as one of four passengers including the Amazon founder himself.

The winner, whose identity will be disclosed in coming weeks, beat out some 20 participants in an auction launched in late May, and wrapped up with a 10-minute online bidding frenzy, livecast by Blue Origin. —  AFP

May 11, 2021 - 8:52am

The US space probe Osiris-Rex on Monday left the orbit of the asteroid Bennu, from which it collected dust samples last year, to begin its long journey back to Earth.

The probe still has a vast distance to cover before it lands in the Utah desert on September 24, 2023. 

Osiris-Rex is "now moving away over 600 miles an hour from Bennu, on its way home," Dante Lauretta, head of the mission, said on NASA's video broadcast of the event. 

The spacecraft's thrusters were engaged without incident for seven minutes to put the probe on the correct trajectory home, a journey of 1.4 billion miles (2.3 billion kiometers).

It is carrying more than 60 grams of dust and fragments from the asteroid, the largest sample collected by NASA since the Moon rocks brought back by the Apollo missions. — AFP

May 10, 2021 - 8:32am

SpaceX will launch a satellite to the Moon next year funded entirely with the cryptocurrency Dogecoin, Canadian company Geometric Energy Corporation, which will lead the lunar mission, announced Sunday.

The satellite, dubbed DOGE-1, will be launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in the first quarter of 2022, the Calgary-based company said in a statement.

The cubic satellite, weighing 88 pounds (40 kilograms), will aim to obtain "lunar-spatial intelligence from sensors and cameras on-board," according to the statement.

The "DOGE-1 Mission to the Moon" will be "the first-ever commercial lunar payload in history paid entirely with" Dogecoin, Geometric Energy Corporation said, without specifying how much the project cost.

"We're excited to launch DOGE-1 to the Moon!" Tom Ochinero, SpaceX vice president of commercial sales, said in the statement. — AFP

May 9, 2021 - 2:23pm

A large segment of a Chinese rocket re-entered the Earth's atmosphere and disintegrated over the Indian Ocean on Sunday, the Chinese space agency said, following fevered speculation over where the 18-tonne object would come down.

Officials in Beijing had said there was little risk from the freefalling segment of the Long March-5B rocket, which had launched the first module of China's new space station into Earth orbit on April 29.

"After monitoring and analysis, at 10:24 (0224 GMT) on May 9, 2021, the last-stage wreckage of the Long March 5B Yao-2 launch vehicle has reentered the atmosphere," the China Manned Space Engineering Office said in a statement, providing coordinates for a point in the Indian Ocean near the Maldives. —  AFP

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