What happened now? An out-of-control Chinese missile crashed to the ground, the third such incident. On Saturday, the Long March 5B re-entered Earth’s atmosphere over the Indian Ocean before crashing somewhere near the Malaysian state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo. Fragments of a rocket flying across the night sky were captured on video by eyewitnesses who thought they were looking at a shooting star.
The Chinese Long March 5B rocket lifted off on July 24, delivering the second module (Wentian) to the Tiangong space station. The module contained equipment to allow astronauts to conduct scientific experiments, as well as three additional sleeping quarters and another EVA airlock.
The reentry appears to have been observed from Kuching in Sarawak, Malaysia. The wreckage will land in northern Borneo, possibly Brunei. [corrected] https://t.co/sX6m1XMYoO
— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) July 30, 2022
As planned, the Long March 5B booster separated from the rocket as it reached space. Unlike most modern rockets, this part does not fire the engine for controlled re-entry, so many are concerned about where the 22-ton, 100-foot-long object will land.
The US Space Command tweeted that the Long March 5B rocket re-entered the atmosphere at 12:45 pm ET Saturday. China said it returned close to the coast of Palawan Island, part of the Philippines, and that much of the wreckage burned over the Sulu Sea between the Philippines and Malaysia.
People in several parts of Malaysia saw the wreckage of the rocket and filmed it falling to Earth. Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said the debris would land near Sibu, Bintulu or Brunei, cities along the north coast of Borneo.
Star reports that two families in Batu Nia, Sarawak, were ordered to leave their homes due to the danger of radiation after an unidentified black object believed to be part of a rocket was made aware on Sunday.
NASA administrator Bill Nelson criticized China for not reporting more on what could have been a potentially fatal incident. “The People’s Republic of China has not shared specific trajectory information as their Long March 5B rocket crashed into Earth,” he tweeted. “All spacefaring nations should follow established best practices and contribute to the exchange of such information in advance to provide reliable predictions of potential debris impact risk, especially for heavy vehicles such as the Long March 5B, which carry a significant risk. loss of life and property.”
This is the third time the Long March 5B main stage has made an uncontrolled re-entry. The same thing happened in 2020, ten days after launch, when debris landed on the Ivory Coast. There was also a second flight last year, part of which landed in the Indian Ocean.
The third and final Tiangong module will be delivered by Long March 5B rocket in October. While some believe that China will reduce or stop uncontrolled re-flights, the rocket will also be used to send a telescope into space in 2023, so expect at least two more such incidents in the future.