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‘Massive’ Chinese rocket debris to crash land in US this weekend

China's Long March 5 rocket at launch site in Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Center. (篁竹水声/Wikimedia Commons)
July 28, 2022

Pieces of a Chinese Long March 5B rocket are expected to crash into Earth this weekend, likely spreading debris around the world, including the United States. 

California-based federally subsidized nonprofit Aerospace Corporation reported Tuesday that experts at the Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies (CORDS) are closely monitoring the “massive” 23-metric-ton rocket booster’s uncontrolled reentry. 

The group believes the debris will land in a populated area “due to the uncontrolled nature of its descent” and the fact that “over 88 percent of the world’s population lives under the reentry’s potential debris footprint.”

“If this sounds familiar, it’s because similar uncontrolled reentries of Long March rockets occurred in 2020 and 2021. A reentry of this size will not burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere, and the general rule of thumb is that 20–40 percent of the mass of a large object will reach the ground, though it depends on the design of the object,” the group stated. 

Aerospace Corp. predicted that the debris field included the U.S., Africa, Australia, Brazil, India, and Southeast Asia. 

The Chinese state-run news outlet Global Times dismissed concerns over the falling debris, arguing the West has a “sour grapes” mentality toward “the robust development of China’s aerospace sector.”

“China ruled out the possibility of causing ground damage at the design stage, and its capability to ensure the re-entry safety has proven itself reliable again and again. What is behind such smears is total jealousy of us,” TV commentator Song Zhongping told the outlet.

The Global Times reported that Zhongping believes the “US is running out of ways to stop China’s development in the aerospace sector, so smears and defamation became the only things left for it.”

“But those efforts would be useless to affect the development of the China space program,” he added. 

The Chinese Communist Party defended a similar situation last year when debris from another Long March rocket crashed into the Indian Ocean in May 2021. Then-Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying claimed that China is held to different standards than the U.S. when it comes to space exploration.  

“American media used romantic rhetoric like ‘shooting stars lighting up the night sky,’” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying. “But when it comes to the Chinese side, it’s a completely different approach.”

“We are willing to work with other countries including the United States to strengthen cooperation in the use of outer space, but we also oppose double standards on this issue,” she added. 

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson slammed China as irresponsible in the wake of the Indian Ocean crash, according to Time.

“It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris,” Nelson said at the time. “It is critical that China and all space faring nations and commercial entities act responsibly and transparently in space to ensure the safety, stability, security, and long-term sustainability of outer space activities.”