NASA criticized the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for recklessly endangering the world with the uncontrolled re-entry of its latest Long March 5B rocket after it crashed into the Indian Ocean near the Maldives on May 9.
The rocket carried onboard the Tianhe “Heavenly Harmony” module, the first of China’s Tiangong Space Station. This Long March 5B core plummeting to Earth’s surface was approximately 22 tons and was the heaviest to suffer an uncontrolled reentry since the USSR’s Salyut-7 in 1991 at 39 tons.
In April 2018, Chinese space lab Tiangong-1 plummeted into Earth, eventually breaking down over the South Pacific.
Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at Harvard University, told CNN the Chinese rocket was designed in a way that it “leaves these big stages in low orbit.”
In another interview with CNN, McDowell said dense pieces from the Long March 5B could have survived reentry, with enough power to take down a house. In May of 2020, the Communist Party sent another Long March 5B core uncontrolled back towards Earth’s surface. That one was not so lucky. It landed on two villages in the Ivory Coast. Fortunately, nobody was injured.
The U.S. space agency criticized China for not adhering to internationally accepted space safety standards. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson demanded spacefaring nations be more transparent about objects reentering earth for the purposes of safeguarding people and property.
“It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their 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,” Nelson said in a statement.
China plans on conducting 10 more launches that will transport additional components of its space station.
Foreign Ministry propaganda guru Hua Chunying claimed they were being treated unfairly because of positive reactions when a SpaceX rocket fell in Oregon and Washington in March.
“American media used romantic rhetoric like ‘shooting stars lighting up the night sky’…’ But when it comes to the Chinese side, it’s a completely different approach,” Hua claimed to AP..
According to NASA, there are millions of objects, classified as space junk, flying in the Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Such objects can be tiny flecks of paint left over from a spacecraft, pieces of spacecraft, rocket parts, non-operational satellites, and so on. These objects hurtle through space at speeds of up to 18,000 miles an hour, which is roughly seven times the speed of a bullet.
Two major events which have increased the volume of space junk in the LEO are the accidental collision between a Russian and American spacecraft in 2009 and the intentional destruction of China’s Fengyun-1C spacecraft back in 2007.
Together, these two incidents increased the large orbital debris by roughly 70 percent. Estimates put the total quantity of LEO space junk at 6,000 tons.
Though solutions have been suggested for removing space debris, Moriba Jah, an orbital debris expert at the University of Texas at Austin, told Scientific American that the business case for such endeavors are presently not monetizable. Jah thinks that spacefaring nations should treat near-Earth space as an ecosystem that needs to be protected.
“We need a way we can quantify at what point an ‘orbital highway’ gets saturated with traffic so that it’s not usable. Then you can assign a bounty for objects and talk about non-consensual debris removal. Maybe there is a penalty to the sovereign owner of their dead asset that’s taking up capacity of an orbit. This could definitely create a marketplace where space-object-removal technologies can thrive.”