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Chinese rocket plunges into Indian Ocean, still lands sharp rebuke from NASA

Long March 5B lands 45km from the Maldives

Bits of China's Long March 5B rocket have returned to Earth without inconveniencing anyone, but did irritate NASA enough for the agency to issue a sternly-worded statement.

Bits of the bird landed in the Indian Ocean at 10:24 AM Sunday Beijing time, missing the Maldivian island of Kudahuvadhoo by about 45 kilometers.

The China Manned Space Agency issued a statement dated May 9th that offered the following observations:

The vast majority of the device burned up during the reentry, and the landing area of the debris is about a sea area with the center at 2.65 degrees north latitude and 72.47 degrees east longitude.

The uncontrolled landing of the rocket was much anticipated across the world, as no one could predict its exact destination, other than a 70 percent chance it would be in water. Those knowledgeable about re-entries, like astronomer Jonathan McDowell, tried to soothe the public with graphs proving a worst case land crash damage would be comparable to a small plane crash.

However, that did not stop a collective watch party reminiscent of late March’s Suez Canal ship obstruction from forming. tweeted a thank you to its 30,000 new followers.

Twitter did not disappoint with quality observations.

Although China is not the only country to generate space junk, the Long March 5B is unusually large and therefore more likely to result in something solid coming back to Earth. China's decision to allow an uncontrolled descent was also unusual. Planned de-orbits are now de rigeur.

Which is probably why NASA Administrator Sen. Bill Nelson issued aterse statement:

Spacefaring nations must minimize the risks to people and property on Earth of re-entries of space objects and maximize transparency regarding those operations.

It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding space debris.

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.

Chinese space junk has been a hot topic in the US in recent days: just last week US military commanders appeared in a Congressional hearing to discuss how to create a framework for rules-based order in space and stop this type of behaviour from space programs in the future.

Which may well be needed, because China will conduct ten more missions to lift components of its space station into orbit. Just two of those will use the Long March 5B. ®

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