Chinese rocket debris dodges Australia to land in Indian Ocean

Debris from the Chinese Long March 5B rocket landed harmlessly in the Indian Ocean on Monday, avoiding any damage to people or buildings.

Chinese rocket debris dodges Australia to land in Indian Ocean

The 25-tonne object was being monitored after it hurtled out of control towards Earth, with its potential impact sites at one point including major population centres in Australia.

However, on Monday, US Space Command confirmed in a tweet that the debris passed harmlessly over multiple South-East Asian nations, eventually landing in the sea.

Fragments from the rocket broke apart in the atmosphere as it passed over the Sulu Sea that separates Borneo from the Philippines.

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The uncontrolled rocket debris was captured in several videos by amateur sky watchers in both Malaysia and the Philippines, with some mistaking it for a meteor shower.

Residents in Indonesia even caught sight of the early stages of re-entry when the rocket was still mostly intact, with the object appearing like a fireball in the night sky.

Up until Friday, 29 July, there was still a lack of clear information about the projected trajectory of the rocket, with US organisation The Aerospace Corporation predicting that debris from the rocket could fall in locations covering 88 per cent of the world’s population. Multiple population centres in Australia were included in the possible debris landing sites.

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Concern about the possibility of the rocket debris striking an Australian population centre was raised after the discovery of a significant fragment of rocket debris by two Australian farmers in Dalgety, NSW over the weekend.

China has faced significant criticism for the decision to allow the rocket to re-enter the atmosphere uncontrolled.

An astrophysicist from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Jonathan McDowell, said, “No other country leaves these 20-tonne things in orbit to re-enter in an uncontrolled way.”

The move from China also drew the ire of NASA, with NASA administrator Bill Nelson providing a statement on the re-entry.

“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.

Doing so is critical to the responsible use of space and to ensure the safety of people here on Earth.

Nelson also added that the China Manned Space Agency “did not share specific trajectory information” regarding the rocket’s re-entry point.

The China Manned Space Agency released a statement confirming that the rocket had re-entered the atmosphere and provided coordinates for the debris footprint, which were 119.0 degrees east and 9.1 degrees north, which is an area off the coast of the island of Palawan.

The agency said that most of the remnants of the rocket burned up during the re-entry process.

Liam McAneny

Liam McAneny

Liam McAneny is a journalist who has written and edited for his University International Relations journal. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (International Relations) and Bachelor of Laws from the University of Wollongong in 2021. He joined Momentum Media in 2022 and currently writes for SpaceConnect and Australian Aviation. Prior to Momentum Media he worked as a legal graduate in a solicitor's office. Liam has a keen interest in geopolitics and international relations as well as astronomy. In his spare time Liam is an avid amateur astronomer and narrative writer.

Send Liam an email at: [email protected] or connect via Twitter.

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