NASA is accusing Beijing of not sharing the customary “specific trajectory information” needed to determine where debris might fall from a huge Chinese rocket that tumbled out of orbit over the Indian Ocean.
US Space Command said the Long March 5B the rocket re-entered over the Indian Ocean about 12.45pm EDT on Saturday (02.45 on Sunday AEST), but referred questions about “re-entry’s technical aspects such as potential debris dispersal impact location” to China.
“All space-faring 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,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said.
“Doing so is critical to the responsible use of space and to ensure the safety of people here on earth.”
Social media users in Malaysia posted video of what appeared to be rocket debris.
Aerospace Corp, a government-funded research centre near Los Angeles, said it was reckless to allow the rocket’s entire main-core stage, which weighs 22.5 tonnes, to return to earth in an uncontrolled re-entry.
Earlier this week, analysts said the rocket body would disintegrate as it plunged through the atmosphere but was large enough that numerous chunks would likely survive to rain debris over an area about 2000 kilometres long by 70km wide.
China said this week it would closely track the debris but said it posed little risk to anyone on the ground.
The Long March 5B blasted off on July 24 to deliver a laboratory module to the new Chinese space station under construction in orbit, marking the third flight of China’s most powerful rocket since its maiden launch in 2020.
Not the first time
Fragments of another Chinese Long March 5B landed on the Ivory Coast in 2020, damaging several buildings, though no injuries were reported.
By contrast, he said, the United States and most other space-faring nations generally go to the added expense of designing their rockets to avoid large, uncontrolled re-entries, an imperative largely observed since large chunks of the NASA space station Skylab fell from orbit in 1979 and landed in Australia.
Last year, NASA and others accused China of being opaque after the Beijing government kept silent about the estimated debris trajectory or the re-entry window of its last Long March rocket flight in May 2021.
Debris from that flight ended up landing in the Indian Ocean.