China’s uncontrolled Long March 5B rocket re-entered Earth’s atmosphere over the Indian Ocean, landing somewhere near Sarawak, the Malaysian state on the island of Borneo.
The US Space Command confirmed the return of the missile at 12:45 p.m. ET, but it remains unclear where the debris landed. In a translated post on Weibo, the Chinese manned space agency said the rocket re-entered near the same area and most of it burned up on its way down.
On July 24, China used a Long March 5B rocket to launch a lab module to the unfinished Tiangong space station. Unlike most rockets, the Long March 5B propels its first stage into orbit when it delivers its payload. This piece, which is more than 100 feet long and weighs more than 22 tons, orbits the Earth for a while until it crashes to the Earth, with no way to control its movement.
Uncertainty about where the rocket would land has surged around the world over the past week, such as: projections had the rocket landing anywhere from Mexico to the southern tip of Africa. This is the third launch of the Long March 5B in China and marks the third runaway landing. In 2020, China used a Long March 5B to launch Tiangong’s core module into space. Debris from the missile landed in Côte d’Ivoire, and while no injuries were reported, there was structural damage. Last year, China launched its first lab module aboard a Long March 5B, the pieces of which eventually ended up in the Indian Ocean.
Return appears to have been observed from Kuching in Sarawak, Malaysia. Debris would land down in northern Borneo, possibly Brunei. [corrected] https://t.co/sX6m1XMYoO
— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) July 30, 2022
Malaysian users on Twitter captured the missile’s apparent return, with some believe it be one meteor. Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, believe debris of the missile could end up near Sibu, Bintulu or Brunei — three towns along Borneo’s north coast — but believe it’s “unlikely” to have landed in a populated area.
NASA administrator Bill Nelson reacted to the uncontrolled landing in a statement on Twitter. “The People’s Republic of China did not share specific trajectory information when their Long March 5B rocket fell back to Earth,” Nelson writes. “All space countries should follow established best practices and do their part to share this kind of information in advance to enable reliable predictions of the potential risk of debris impact, especially for heavy vehicles, such as the Long March 5B, which is a involve significant risk. of the loss of life and property.”
Unfortunately, this isn’t the last rocket that got out of hand to crash into Earth. China plans to launch its third and final module to Tiangong in October using a Long March 5B, and will use the rocket again to take a telescope to space in 2023.