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Long March 5B rocket stage reenters Earth over Indian Ocean

Metal ball, suspected space debris from a Chinese Long March rocket. Credit: AFP

Edinburgh, 2 August 2022.

Parts of the first stage of the Chinese Long March 5B rocket that launched the second, Wentian module of the Tiangong Space Station last month, reentered Earth’s atmosphere over Southeast Asia six days after launch, the China Manned Space Agency confirmed.

Debris from the 30-meter-long, five-meter-wide core stage fell into the Sulu Sea, close to Palawan Island in the western Philippines. Most of the empty rocket stage has most likely burned up on reentry, however, components designed to withstand high temperatures will have survived the process.

The Long March 5B is a version of China’s largest rocket, comprising a core stage and four side boosters. The first stage is also the upper stage, which inserts the payload into orbit before de-orbiting due to atmospheric drag. 

The Aerospace Corporation, EU Space Surveillance and Tracking and 18 SDS provided regular updates on reentry predictions. Meanwhile, the China Manned Space Agency was also tracking the core stage, issuing daily orbital data but without estimates for reentry.

China is planning to launch Mengtian, Tiangong’s third module in October on yet another Long March 5B rocket.

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