Story at a glance

  • Debris from a Chinese rocket fell into the Indian Ocean after the cargo return capsule malfunctioned upon reentry.
  • The Long March 5, also known as Chang Zheng 5, made an unguided reentry for the second time in the last year.
  • NASA issued a statement chastising the country for failing “to ensure the safety, stability, security, and long-term sustainability of outer space activities.”

For a few hours this weekend, the world held its breath and looked to the skies, waiting to see where debris from a Chinese rocket that malfunctioned during reentry would fall.  

China’s National Space Administration said the last debris of the Long March-5B Y2 carrier rocket reentered the atmosphere at 10:24 p.m. Beijing time on Sunday, much of it burning up during reentry and the remaining falling in the sea in the Indian Ocean. U.S. Space Command confirmed the reentry over the Arabian Peninsula after 10 p.m., but said it did not know if the debris hit land or water.


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“Spacefaring nations must minimize the risks to people and property on Earth of re-entries of space objects and maximize transparency regarding those operations. China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris,” said NASA Administrator Sen. Bill Nelson in a statement. “It is critical that China and all spacefaring nations and commercial entities act responsibly and transparently in space to ensure the safety, stability, security, and long-term sustainability of outer space activities.”  

The Long March 5, also known as Chang Zheng 5, was forced to make its second unguided entry in recent years after an experimental cargo return capsule malfunctioned upon reentry, prompting criticism from some in the field.


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"As far as I know, the last stage of the rocket has been passivated to prevent it from exploding in orbit and creating space debris," a spokesperson from the Chinese Foreign Ministry told the China Global Television Network, saying that no injuries or damage caused by the debris were reported. Responding to the outcry, the spokesperson added, "We are willing to work with countries, including the U.S., to strengthen cooperation in the use of outer space, but we also oppose double standards on this issue."


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Published on May 10, 2021