Chinese rocket falls from space, plunges into Pacific Ocean


An out-of-control piece of a Chinese rocket booster crash-landed in the Pacific Ocean Friday morning — scattering tons of metal across the water’s surface as the world watched nervously, according to space officials.

The 23-ton hunk of space junk re-entered the atmosphere in a south-central section of the ocean just after 6 a.m., United States Space Command said in a tweet.

China left it to luck where the charred spacecraft stage would fall after it blasted off Monday —  the third time in two years the country had an uncontrolled rocket reentry, experts and officials said.

“The thing I want to point out about this is that we, the world, don’t deliberatelyx launch things this big intending them to fall wherever,” Ted Muelhaupt, a space reentry and debris expert for the Aerospace Corporation said at a press conference Wednesday. “We haven’t done that for 50 years.”

A picture of a long March 5B rocket.
China’s Long March 5B rocket launch had no re-entry location plan.

A picture of a long March 5B rocket, carrying China's Mengtian science module.
The rocket scattered tons of metal across the water’s surface, according to space officials.

Rocket designers in China made a similar unpredictable landing in July, with another piece of its Long March 5B rocket crashing in the Indian Ocean.

A Chinese rocket booster also fell back to Earth, causing property damage on the Arabian Peninsula in In May 2021.

A map of rocket paths.
A Chinese rocket booster crash-landed in the Pacific Ocean Friday morning.
Aerospace Corporation

“Here we go again,” Muelhaupt said, calling China’s will-nilly re-entry policy out of this world.

Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, insisted Friday that the plunging space debris —  from its Long March 5B rocket, launched from the Tiangong Space Station — was simply business as usual.

A picture of people watching the Long March-5B Y4 carrier rocket carrying the space lab module Mengtian, blasts off from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center.
Experts and officials say this is the third time in two years that China has had an uncontrolled rocket re-entry.

“I would like to stress that China has always carried out activities in the peaceful use of outer space in accordance with international law and international practice — re-entry of the last stage of a rocket is an international practice,” he said in a statement.

He said the rocket was “designed with special technology”  that allows most of its components to “burn up and be destroyed during the re-entry process” creating a slim chance of  “harm to aviation activities and on the ground.”

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