The Standard (St. Catharines)

Wayward rocket part burned up: China

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China’s space agency said a core segment of its biggest rocket re-entered Earth’s atmosphere above the Maldives in the Indian Ocean and that most of it burned up early Sunday.

Harvard astrophysi­cist Jonathan Mcdowell, who tracked the tumbling rocket part, said on Twitter, “An ocean re-entry was always statistica­lly the most likely. It appears China won its gamble … But it was still reckless.”

People in Jordan, Oman and Saudi Arabia reported sightings of the Chinese rocket debris on social media, with scores of users posting footage of the debris piercing the early dawn skies over the Middle East.

Usually, discarded rocket stages re-enter the atmosphere soon after liftoff, normally over water, and don’t go into orbit.

China’s official Xinhua News Agency later clarified that reentry occurred Sunday at 10:24 a.m. Beijing time. “The vast majority of items were burned beyond recognitio­n during the reentry process,” the report said.

Despite that, NASA administra­tor Sen. Bill Nelson issued a statement saying: “It is clear that China is failing to meet responsibl­e standards regarding their space debris.”

The roughly 30-metre long rocket stage is among the biggest space debris to fall to Earth. China’s space program, with its close military links, hasn’t said why it put the main component of the rocket into space rather than allowing it to fall back to Earth soon after dischargin­g its payload, as is usual in such operations.

The Long March 5B rocket carried the main module of China’s first permanent space station — Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony — into orbit April 29.

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