The Chinese 23-ton Long March 5B rocket, which delivered a new module to its space station, took off from Hainan Island at 2:22 p.m. local time Sunday, July 24, and the module successfully docked with China’s orbital outpost. The rocket had since been in an uncontrolled descent toward Earth’s atmosphere — marking the third time that China has been accused of not properly handling space debris from its rocket stage.
“No other country leaves these 20-ton things in orbit to reenter in an uncontrolled way,” Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told CNN’s Jim Acosta Saturday afternoon.
In a Saturday statement on Twitter, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson wrote China “did not share specific trajectory information” as the rocket fell back to Earth.
“All spacefaring nations should follow established best practices, and do their part to share this type of information in advance to allow reliable predictions of potential debris impact risk, especially for heavy-lift vehicles, like the Long March 5B, which carry a significant risk of loss of life and property,” Nelson said.
“Doing so is critical to the responsible use of space and to ensure the safety of people here on Earth,” he added.
In a statement, the China Manned Space Agency said remnants of the rocket reentered the atmosphere at about 12:55 a.m. Sunday Beijing time — or about 12:55 p.m. ET Saturday.
The agency added most of the remnants burned up during the reentry process over the Sulu Sea, which is between the island of Borneo and the Philippines.
“What we really want to know is did any pieces actually end up sitting on the ground,” McDowell told CNN. “That may take a little while longer for the reports to filter back.”
Video posted online appears to show what experts believe are images of the rocket booster burning up in the atmosphere, but CNN cannot confirm their veracity.
Vanessa Julan, a resident of Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia, shared a video with CNN that shows what appears to be rocket debris burning up.
She told CNN she shot the footage at around 12:50 a.m. local time, which is the same as Beijing time.