Accusing the US of maintaining “double standards”, China on Monday played down global concerns over its out-of-control rocket remnants re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere and crashing into the Indian Ocean near the Maldives.
The remnants of China’s biggest rocket, Long March 5B, crashed into the Indian Ocean near the Maldives on Sunday with no reports of damage, but Beijing was criticised by US space agency NASA for its failure to “meet responsible standards” regarding its space debris.
Reacting to NASA Administrator Senator Bill Nelson’s criticism, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying at a media briefing in Beijing said some countries, including America, are hyping up the issue even though the rocket debris was burnt on re-entry into the atmosphere.
“You mentioned some comments from the NASA administrator. It is currently common practice across the world for launch vehicles of spacecraft to undergo natural orbital decay after passing orbital altitude and then eventually be ablated upon re-entry into the atmosphere”, she said in updated comments posted on the Foreign Ministry website.
“China has been following closely the upper stage’s re-entry into the atmosphere. The upper stage of this rocket has been deactivated, which means that it will not explode in orbit and produce space debris, and most of its parts will burn up upon re-entry, making the likelihood of damage to aviation or ground facilities and activities extremely low,” she said.
China monitored closely the re-entry trajectory throughout the process and released a notice on the re-entry in advance. So far no damage has been reported, she said.
“In fact, the Chinese side shared its re-entry forecast through international cooperation mechanisms. We always conducts activities for peaceful uses of outer space in accordance with international law and customary practice,” she said.
Hitting out at the US, Hua said individuals in the US clearly hold double standard on this issue. “You may recall that in March this year, when a piece of a SpaceX rocket crashed on a farm in the country, American media used such romantic descriptions as ”lighting up the night sky like a meteor, producing a spectacular light show”, she said.
“But when it comes to China, the tune is completely different. I noticed some jesting online in China, saying that US politicians may be forgetful, but the Internet has a long memory. We stand ready to strengthen cooperation with other countries including the US, but we reject double standard on this issue,” she said.
Responding to a question on whether China has notified India and the Maldives about the crash, Hua said.
“China’s space authority has released information several times on the re-entry of upper stage debris of the Long March-5B Y2 rocket and shared re-entry forecast via international cooperation mechanisms. To date no damage by the landing debris has been reported,” she said.
The space vehicle re-entered the atmosphere on Sunday morning and the debris from the 18-tonne rocket, one of the largest items in decades to have an undirected dive into the atmosphere, landed in the Indian Ocean.
The uncontrolled fall of the Chinese rocket sparked concerns among US officials, NASA and international astrophysicists that it could hit inhabited areas.
Harvard astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, who tracked the debris of the rocket part for the past few days, said that it was a reckless gamble by China.
“An ocean reentry was always statistically the most likely. It appears China won its gamble…But it was still reckless,” he tweeted.
There has been intense speculation over where the rocket debris might land, and US officials and other experts warned its return risked potential casualties.
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