Part of a Chinese rocket that carried three military spy satellites into orbit in June recently fell uncontrolled out of the sky and disintegrated over Texas.
U.S. Space Command confirmed that the four-ton rocket component plunged into the atmosphere at 17,000 miles per hour and came apart, possibly creating a debris field over Texas hundreds of miles long, USNI News reported.
The object was the second stage of a Long March 2D rocket that delivered three Yaogan-35 remote sensing satellites into orbit over the summer. NORAD tracking data indicated the stage was space junk in low Earth orbit before making an unscheduled return, USNI News reported.
In a statement, U.S. Space Command said the “uncontrolled reentry … was not steered but rather its orbit decayed and lowered naturally.”
“This type of behavior reinforces the need for better international norms regarding high-risk uncontrolled reentries,” Space Command continued.
Footage of the rocket being launched on June 23 was posted online.
No debris from the rocket had immediately been found, though it could be spread over an area miles wide and hundreds of miles long, according to USNI News.
In a similar incident days later, the second stage of another Long March 2D rocket disintegrated in the skies over Nepal, USNI News reported.
Both of these rockets were reportedly equipped with a specialized sail designed to keep their stages from staying in orbit and posing hazards, but China does not control when they fall out of orbit.
“The plan when they launched it was for it to reenter somewhere random in the world at some unpredictable time sometime this year,” astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell told USNI News. “That may not be a good plan or a very specific one, but it’s sort of a plan.”
China has deployed multiple sets of Yaogan-35 satellites in the past year, but little is known about them, Space.com reported. Chinese state news outlet Xinhua said that the satellites are mainly for scientific experiments, disaster prevention, surveys of land resources, and estimating agricultural yields.