The Washington Post

China’s most powerful rocket falls to Earth and lands in a pile of criticism

After not sharing trajectory details, Beijing says debris landed in sea


China said its most powerful rocket fell back to Earth, as NASA criticized Beijing for failing to share crucial data about its trajectory.

The Long March 5B rocket, which weighs more than 1.8 million pounds, blasted off from the Wenchang spaceport on July 24 — carrying another module to China’s first permanent space station, Tiangong, which is in the process of being constructe­d.

The “vast majority” of the rocket’s debris burned up during reentry into the atmosphere at about 12:55 a.m., the China Manned Space Agency said Sunday in a statement on its official Weibo social media account.

The rest “landed in the sea” at 119.0 degrees East and 9.1 degrees North, it said. These coordinate­s are in the waters off the Philippine island of Palawan, southeast of the city of Puerto Princesa. China’s statement did not say whether any debris fell on land.

Experts were concerned that the huge size of the 176-foot rocket and the risky design of its launch process would mean its debris might not burn up as it reentered the Earth’s atmosphere. The rocket shed its empty 23-ton first stage in orbit, looping the planet over several days as it approached landing in a difficultt­o-predict flight path.

The United States said China was taking on a significan­t risk by allowing the rocket to fall uncontroll­ed to Earth without advising on its potential path.

“The People’s Republic of China did not share specific trajectory informatio­n as their Long March 5B rocket fell back to Earth,” NASA Administra­tor Bill Nelson tweeted Saturday.

“All spacefarin­g nations should follow establishe­d best practices, and do their part to share this type of informatio­n in advance to allow reliable prediction­s of potential debris impact risk, especially for heavy-lift vehicles, like the Long March 5B, which carry a significan­t risk of loss of life and property,” he continued. “Doing so is critical to the responsibl­e use of space and to ensure the safety of people here on Earth.”

Ahead of the rocket’s reentry, China sought to quash fears that debris posed a risk to the public, predicting that pieces from the core stage would probably end up in the sea.

U.S. criticism of China when it comes to space debris has been long-running. “It is clear that China is failing to meet responsibl­e standards regarding their space debris,” read a statement released by NASA last year.

Last week, China’s state-run newspaper the Global Times accused the West of showing “sour grapes” and trying to discredit its efforts in space. The article accused the United States of leading a “smear campaign” against the “robust developmen­t of China’s aerospace sector.”

 ?? CNS/AGENCE France-presse/getty IMAGES ?? People watch the launch of a Long March 5B rocket from the Wenchang spaceport in southern China on July 24.
CNS/AGENCE France-presse/getty IMAGES People watch the launch of a Long March 5B rocket from the Wenchang spaceport in southern China on July 24.

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