Debris from a Chinese Long March 5B rocket fell to Earth on November 4, marking the fourth time in two years that a Long March 5B booster has crashed to Earth following an uncontrolled reentry.

Debris from the rocket, weighing about 25 tonnes, which was launched on October 31 to deliver the Mengtian laboratory cabin module to the Tiangong space station, re-entered Earth’s atmosphere on the morning of November 4, it said The New York Times.

Debris from the rocket ended up in the Pacific Ocean, the US Space Command announced.

China insists that uncontrolled re-entry is common practice

This is the fourth time in two years that China has disposed of its missiles in an uncontrolled manner. Previous crash landings have seen metal objects fall over villages in Ivory Coast, debris landed in the Indian Ocean near the Maldives, and pieces of rockets landed dangerously close to villages in Borneo.

China has insisted that uncontrolled re-entry is common practice and has dismissed concerns about potential damage as “shameless exaggeration”. In 2021, Hua Chunying, then a spokeswoman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, made allegations about Western reporting on the subject.

The chances of someone being injured by a falling missile are small (between 1 in 1,000 and 1 in 230). However, given that the trajectory of the missile debris covers more than about 88 percent of the world’s population, this places the chances of injury well above the internationally accepted casualty risk threshold for uncontrolled re-entries of 1 in 10,000, according to LiveScience.

“Nations using space must minimize risks to people and property on Earth in the event of re-entry of space objects and maximize transparency regarding these operations. China is clearly failing to meet safety standards for their space debris,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson wrote in a statement after the 2021 Long March 5B crash.

Presence in space, an important issue for China

The T-shaped Tiangong space station, whose mass is about a quarter of that of the International Space Station, is expected to remain in low Earth orbit for at least ten years. Its rotating crews of three astronauts will use the station to conduct experiments and tests of new technologies.

In recent years, China has stepped up its presence in space to catch up with the US and Russia. China has also said it will establish a lunar research station at the moon’s south pole by 2029.

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