China sparks fury as huge rocket part set to CRASH into Earth after being left ‘in orbit’

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After launching a module for its upcoming space station, China has been criticised for leaving a huge rocket booster in orbit, making it the third time it has done so in three years. On Sunday, the Chinese space agency launched the Wentian space station module on Sunday, which hours later safely docked with the Tiangong space station, as planned.

The 58.7-foot-long (17.9 meters) module was launched with the help of Beijing’s Long March 5B heavy-lift rocket.

However, after completing the mission, China decided not to control the disposal of the first stage of the Long March 5B rocket.

According to Dr Jonathan McDowell, an experienced tracker of space debris, at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the US Space Command orbital data has revealed that the 21-tonne stage is floating on its own in space.

He tweeted that orbital data “confirms that the inert 21-tonne rocket core stage remains in orbit and was not actively deorbited.”

He later added: “On average, US launch providers do a rather better job of upper stage disposal and China on average a worse one.”

So far neither the US military nor the Aerospace Corporation, which typically provides information on objects potentially entering the Earth, have made any public announcements regarding the rocket booster.

While such parts falling to Earth are generally no cause of concern, the Long March 5B rocket body is particularly large, adding the risk that the booster may not fully burn up while entering the atmosphere.

Beijing has been frequently accused of being reckless when handling debris in space.

Most recently, China’s space agency has become one of the primary suspects in the mystery of who launched the rocket that slammed into the surface of the Moon earlier this year.

Experts have pointed the finger at a booster rocket from the experimental robotic Chinese lunar mission, Chang’e 5-T1, after accusing SpaceX of being responsible for the launch

The Chang’e 5-T1 was launched to the moon in late 2014 to conduct atmospheric re-entry tests on the capsule design planned for use in the Chang’e 4 lunar sample return mission.

China, however, has dismissed such allegations, asserting instead that the booster in question “safely entered the Earth’s atmosphere and was completely incinerated”.

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Last year, the world held its breath as another Chinese Long March 5B part took an uncontrolled dive into the Indian Ocean.

Until the last few hours before reentry, there was a concern the rocket could crash into an inhabited area.

Experts back then slammed China’s handling of the problem, calling it a symptom of the country’s wider disregard for the rest of the world.

In a scathing opinion piece for The Hill, which was published just before the Chinese rocket crashed, Mark Whittington said: “If the spent rocket lands in an inhabited area, we can mark it as yet another crime committed by Beijing against the civilized world.”

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