A Long March-5B Y3 rocket carrying the Wentian laboratory module for the Chinese space station under construction lifts off from the Wenchang Space Center in Hainan province, China, July 24, 2022. (China Daily via REUTERS/File Photo)
The Chinese uncontrolled launch vehicle returned and fell to Earth on Friday morning. This is the fourth uncontrolled re-entry of a Chinese rocket since 2020, drawing concern and criticism from the international space community.
A Chinese Long March 5B rocket re-entered Earth’s atmosphere over the south-central Pacific Ocean at 6:01 a.m. ET Friday, and a second rocket object entered the atmosphere over the northeast Pacific Ocean at 6 a.m. ET, data from the US Space Command.
“Once again, the People’s Republic of China is taking unnecessary risks with the uncontrolled reentry of its Long March 5B rocket stage. They did not provide specific trajectory information needed to predict landing zones and reduce risk,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement.
The repeated uncontrolled re-entry is because the Long March 5B was designed by the Chinese without the necessary self-propelled equipment to ensure a safe landing.
In 2020, a Long March 5B rocket was test fired and its debris fell on the Ivory Coast in West Africa. The remains of the rocket, the size of a large van, were one of the largest unguided objects to fall from orbit in decades.
In 2021, the remains of the empty main stage of a Long March 5B launch vehicle fell into the Indian Ocean.
In July 2022, debris from Long March 5B crashed the main stage in Indonesia and the Philippines.
NASA released a statement in July after the main stage of a Chinese rocket crashed.
“The People’s Republic of China (PRC) did not share specific information about the trajectory before their Long March 5B launch vehicle hit Earth,” Nelson said in a statement.
“All spacefaring nations should follow established best practices and contribute to the exchange of such information in advance to provide reliable forecasts of potential debris impact risks, particularly for heavy vehicles such as the Long March 5B, which carry a significant risk of loss of life and property. This is essential for the responsible use of space and the safety of people on Earth.”
Space experts also share concerns about the dangers posed by repeated uncontrolled re-entry of Chinese rocket debris into the atmosphere.
“I want to point out that the lower the risk is tolerable, the more expensive it is to design for that risk. But it has to be done,” said Dr. Lael Woods, an expert on space traffic control at the Space Security Institute, told reporters at a news conference organized by the federally funded Aerospace Corporation.
Woods likened space to today’s busy roads on Earth that need “stop lights, traffic signs and rules.”
Typically, missiles are equipped with equipment that ensures their safe disposal. However, according to Scientific American, Long March 5B boosters cannot be restarted once stopped. Thus, the Chinese launch vehicle must spiral around the Earth before landing in an unpredictable location.
Ted Muhlhaupt, a space propulsion expert and consultant for the Aerospace Corporation, told CNN that it takes time and money to equip a rocket with these features.
In addition, additional equipment increases the weight of the rocket.
“When it comes to trying to escape the powerful pull of gravity and launch valuable cargo into space, every pound counts,” he said.
China dismissed international concerns about its approach to space exploration.
In response to a question from a foreign journalist about the missile’s safety, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian stated at a regular briefing on November 4 that “China has always sought to use outer space for peaceful purposes in accordance with international law and international customary practice.” and adding that “the likelihood that this process will harm flight operations or the ground is extremely small.
China launched the Mengtian module of its Tiangong space station on a fourth Long March 5B rocket on Oct. 31 from the Wenchang Space Center on China’s southern Hainan island, Chinese news agency Xinhua reported.
Sofia Lam, reporter for the Epoch Times, covering topics related to China.