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Chinese rocket chunk crash: What caused it and how NASA reacted

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Remnants of China's biggest rocket, Long March 5B, landed in the Indian Ocean on May 9, with most of its components destroyed upon re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere at 10:24 am Beijing time, ending days of speculation over where the debris would hit.

Chinese rocket chunk crash: What caused it and how NASA reacted

Remnants of China's biggest rocket 'Long March 5B' fell into the Indian Ocean on May 9, with most of its components destroyed upon re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere at 10:24 am Beijing time, ending days of speculation over where the debris would hit. It, however, drew US criticism over the lack of transparency.

The coordinates of longitude 72.47 degrees east and latitude 2.65 degrees north, given by Chinese state media, citing the China Manned Space Engineering Office, put the point of impact in the ocean, west of the Maldives archipelago.

The 18-tonne Long March 5B had blasted off from China's Hainan Island on April 29.

What caused the crash?

Generally, during a rocket launch, its first stages re-enter the atmosphere after liftoff and fall into the ocean harmlessly. In the case of Long March 5B, however, a 100-foot-tall (30 metres) vehicle of the rocket went into orbit with the section of an under-construction space station it was carrying, becoming a space chunk.

According to an Indian Express report, while in orbit, the vehicle kept rubbing against the air in the upper atmosphere and this atmospheric friction made it start losing altitude. The only option left was to crash down to its home planet.

According to Live Science, ground-based radars of the US military detected the rocket core tumbling through orbit, oscillating between altitudes of 170 and 372 km above Earth's surface and the huge chunk hurtling through a low-Earth orbit at a speed of roughly 25,490 km/hr.

How the US and NASA reacted?

The US Space command confirmed the re-entry over the Arabian Peninsula but said it was unknown if the debris impacted land or water.

Meanwhile, NASA blamed China for “failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris”.

Accusing the US of maintaining "double standards", China on Monday played down global concerns over its out-of-control rocket remnants re-entering the Earth's atmosphere and crashing into the Indian Ocean near the Maldives.
Reacting to NASA Administrator Senator Bill Nelson's criticism, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying at a media briefing here said some countries, including America, are hyping up the issue even though the rocket debris was burnt on re-entry into the atmosphere. You mentioned some comments from the NASA administrator. It is currently common practice across the world for launch vehicles of spacecraft to undergo natural orbital decay after passing orbital altitude and then eventually be ablated upon re-entry into the atmosphere, she said in updated comments posted on the Foreign Ministry website.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson also a former senator and astronaut who was appointed in March, said in an official statement after the re-entry, “Spacefaring nations must minimise the risks to people and property on Earth of re-entries of space objects and maximise transparency regarding those operations.”

The Long March was the second deployment of the 5B variant since its maiden flight in May 2020. Last year, pieces from the first Long March 5B fell on Ivory Coast, damaging several buildings. No injuries or casualties, however, were reported.

Earlier, a spokesman from China's foreign ministry said on May 7 that burning up of the upper stages of rockets while re-entering the atmosphere was a common practice across the world.

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