A segment of the Chinese space rocket launched last Sunday made its uncontrolled return to the atmosphere on Saturday and disintegrated over the Indian Ocean, the Chinese space agency has confirmed, with US officials blaming Beijing for not having shared information about this potentially dangerous descent.
In a statement posted on its official WeChat profile, the Chinese Space Agency gave the coordinates of the impact: in the Sulu Sea, about 57 kilometres off the east coast of the island of Palawan in the Philippines.
“Most of its devices were destroyed” during the descent, the agency said of the booster rocket, which was used last Sunday to launch the second of three modules China needed to complete its new Tiangong space station, which should be fully operational by the end of the year.
The return to the atmosphere of the Chinese rocket had been announced several hours earlier by the American army.
“Space Force Command confirms that the People’s Republic of China’s Long March-5B rocket re-entered the atmosphere over the Indian Ocean on July 30” at 4:45 p.m. GMT, tweeted l US Army.
The Malaysian space agency for its part said it detected debris from the rocket burning before falling into the Sulu Sea, northeast of the island of Borneo.
“The rocket debris caught fire upon entering Earth’s airspace and the movement of the burning debris also passed through Malaysian airspace and could be detected in several areas, including traversing the airspace around the state of Sarawak,” she said.
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The Long March-5B rocket was not designed to control its descent from orbit, which, as with previous launches, has drawn criticism.
China “has not given precise information on the trajectory of their Long March-5B rocket,” NASA boss Bill Nelson tweeted on Saturday.