Hours after China confirmed on Sunday that debris from its largest rocket Long March 5B had disintegrated over the Indian Ocean and landed near Maldives, American space agency Nasa slammed the Chinese administration for failing to meet 'responsible standards' regarding space debris. "It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris," Nasa administrator Bill Nelson, a former senator and astronaut who was picked for the role in March, said in a statement after the re-entry.
Remnants of China's largest rocket, the Long March, which was launched last week, re-entered the Earth's atmosphere on Sunday morning and disintegrated over the Indian Ocean, the country's state-sponsored media network, the China Central Television (CCTV), reported, citing the China Manned Space Engineering Office.
According to the coordinates provided by Chinese officials of the rocket's point of impact, the debris now lies west of the Maldives archipelago. The US Space Command had confirmed the re-entry of the rocket over the Arabian Peninsula but said the current location of the debris was unknown.
Earlier, the news had sparked fears over where the large 18-tonne segment of the Chinese rocket was going to come down, leading to a renewed panic over possible damage and casualties amid the prevailing coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic. Uncertainty over the rocket's orbital decay and China's failure to issue stronger reassurances in the run-up to the re-entry fuelled anxiety.
"Spacefaring nations must minimize the risks to people and property on Earth of re-entries of space objects and maximize transparency regarding those operations," the Nasa administrator said, adding that all spacefaring nations must act responsibly to ensure the long-term sustainability of such outer-space activities.
Notably, the Long March was the second deployment of the 5B variant since its maiden flight in May 2020. Last year, pieces from the first Long March 5B fell on Ivory Coast, damaging several buildings. No injuries were reported.
"Spacefaring nations must minimize the risks to people and property on Earth of re-entries of space objects and maximize transparency regarding those operations. 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," the statement issued by Nasa read.
China's state-sponsored media, including the tabloid 'The Global Times', had however dismissed concerns about the rocket debris being potentially dangerous and "out of control" as "Western hype".
Organisations have become more careful about their spacecraft design ever since the Nasa space station 'Skylab' fell from orbit in July 1979 and landed in Australia, leading to most countries seeking to avoid such uncontrolled re-entries ever again.