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Can China be held responsible for debris from its rocket falling uncontrollably to Earth?

A 23-ton Chinese space junk crashed into the sea in the Philippines on Sunday. Beijing is a repeat offender and has been repeatedly criticized for dropping rocket stages to Earth unchecked

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, the Long March 5B Y3 carrier rocket, carrying the Wentian laboratory module, takes off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Wenchang, southern China’s Hainan Province , July 24. Debris from the rocket that propelled part of China’s new space station into orbit fell into the sea in the Philippines on July 31. PA

A 23-ton piece from a Chinese rocket falling to Earth has put scientists on alert. Where would it fall?

Now debris from the rocket that propelled part of China’s new space station into orbit fell into the sea in the Philippines on Sunday, the Chinese government said.

Most of the Long March-5B rocket’s final stage burned out after it entered the atmosphere, the China Manned Space Agency reported. The agency had earlier said the rappel would be allowed to fall without guidance.

The announcement does not specify whether the remaining debris fell on land or sea, but indicates that the “landing zone” is located at 119 degrees east longitude and 9.1 degrees north latitude. It is in waters southeast of the Philippine town of Puerto Princesa on the island of Palawan, reports The Associated Press.

Fortunately, no damage was reported in an area of ​​the western Philippines where rocket debris is believed to have fallen, a Philippine official said Monday. Philippine Space Agency official Marc Talampas said authorities had been advised to be on the lookout for debris, which may have splashed in sea waters off Palawan province.

China is a repeat offender when it comes to space junk and has faced criticism in the past for its debris, especially objects reentering Earth.

What is space debris?

Space junk, or space debris, is pieces of machinery or debris left behind by humans in space.

It can refer to large objects such as dead satellites that have failed or been left in orbit at the end of their mission. According to the Natural History Museum (NHM) in the UK, it can also refer to smaller objects, such as debris or flecks of paint that have fallen from a rocket.

How does waste get into space?

Space debris is created by objects launched into space from Earth. Debris or satellites left at higher altitudes of 36,000 kilometers – where communications and weather satellites are often placed in geostationary orbits – can continue to circle the Earth for hundreds or even thousands of years. , according to NHM.

Objects in lower orbit a few hundred kilometers return quickly; they enter the atmosphere and burn up, preventing them from hitting the ground. But the big concern is when rocket parts fall to Earth uncontrollably.

What is an uncontrollable re-entry?

Rockets launched by most nations separate the launcher from the payload before leaving the atmosphere with an additional engine on the payload giving a final boost and allowing the launcher to fall more predictably. Guardian.
However, China doesn’t seem to want to spend any weight on the second engine, and its 5B rocket – one of the largest in use – instead launches into orbit before separating. The bus-sized launch section then travels through orbit for days or weeks before re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, the report said.

“It’s important for people to understand that of the 10 hard things we do in space, debris re-entry is probably one of the hardest to predict,” said the tracking company’s Dr Darren McKnight. LeoLabs satellite. Cosmos magazine.

Can China be held responsible for debris from its rocket falling uncontrollably to Earth?

No damage was reported in an area in the western Philippines where debris from the rocket that powered part of China’s new space station is believed to have fallen. PA

How did the debris from the Chinese rocket launch hit the earth?

On July 24, the launch of the Long March-5B, China’s most powerful rocket, sent Wentian Laboratory into orbit. He was attached to the main module of Tianhe, where three astronauts live, on Monday.

The remains of a separate cargo spacecraft that serviced the station fell into a predetermined area in the South Pacific after most of it burned up during re-entry.

Has China been responsible for similar incidents in the past?

Yes. China has been criticized for allowing rocket stages to fall to Earth unchecked before.

NASA accused Beijing last year of “failing to maintain responsible standards for their space debris” after parts of a Chinese rocket landed in the Indian Ocean near the Maldives.

In April, a large metal ring and sphere believed to be from a Chinese rocket fell from the sky in a village in Maharashtra. Another object – a large metal ball about half a meter (1.5 feet) in diameter – fell in another village in the district.

In May 2020, two villages in Côte d’Ivoire were hit by objects – including a 12-meter section of pipe – that appeared to be from a Chinese Long March 5B.

Even the country’s first space station, Tiangong-1, crashed into the Pacific Ocean in 2016 after Beijing confirmed it had lost control of it.

What was China’s response to the NASA allegations?

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Chinese space exploration had always followed “international law and … customary practice”, and the likelihood of the debris causing harm was “extremely low. “.

Zhao said the unit was designed with unspecified “special technology” and that the “overwhelming majority” of its components would burn up upon reentry, according to a report in Guardian.

But what if space junk causes damage?

According to the 1972 Space Liability Convention, a launching State is liable to pay compensation for damage caused by its space objects to the surface of the Earth or to aircraft, and liable for damage due to its faults in the space. The Convention also provides procedures for the settlement of claims for compensation.

Nasa was fined $400 for littering when parts of its Skylab space station hit Western Australia in the 1970s. However, it still hasn’t paid.

However, there are no international rules to prevent the uncontrolled entry of waste into space.

The United States and the European Union carry out a risk assessment before a launch. If there’s more than a 1 in 10,000 chance of causing an injury, it won’t go ahead. It seems that China has been released.

With contributions from agencies

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