Remains of uncontrolled Chinese rocket have re-entered atmosphere over Indian Ocean, US Space Command says

The Chinese 23-ton Long March 5B rocket, which delivered a new module to its space station, took off from Hainan Island on Sunday, July 24 at 2:22 p.m. local time, and the module successfully docked at China’s outpost. The rocket has since been on an uncontrolled descent toward Earth’s atmosphere — marking the third time China has been accused of not properly processing space debris from its rocket stage.

“No other country leaves these 20-ton things in orbit to re-enter in an uncontrolled manner,” Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told CNN’s Jim Acosta on Saturday afternoon.

In a Saturday statement on Twitter, NASA administrator Bill Nelson wrote China “did not share specific trajectory information” when the rocket fell back to Earth.

“All space countries need to follow established best practices and do their part to share this kind of information in advance to enable reliable predictions of the potential risk of debris impact, especially for heavy vehicles such as the Long March 5B, which is a significant risk of loss of life and property,” Nelson said.

“This 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 re-entered the atmosphere at about 12:55 a.m. Beijing time — or about 12:55 a.m. ET Saturday.

The agency added most of the remains burned during the return process across the Sulu Sea, which lies between the island of Borneo and the Philippines.

“What we really want to know is if any pieces hit the ground,” McDowell told CNN. “That may take a little longer for the reports to filter back.”

The 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 truth.

Vanessa Julan, a resident of Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia, shared a video to CNN showing what appears to be the burning of rocket debris.

She told CNN that she captured the footage around 12:50 a.m. local time, which is the same as Beijing time.

CNN’s Yong Xiong contributed to this report.

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