Uncontrolled Chinese rocket debris lights up night sky, falls back to Earth near Philippines

The uncontrolled debris from a Chinese rocket fell back to Earth near the Philippines, the Chinese government announced on Sunday.

Chinese officials did not say if the debris fell on land or sea but the “landing area” was at 119 degrees east longitude and 9.1 degrees north latitude – which is in the waters southeast of the Philippine city of Puerto Princesa on the island of Palawan.

The debris was the rocket carrying a new laboratory module, the Long March 5B, for its Tiangong space station. 

U.S. officials also confirmed reentry of the rocket, and although there have been no reported injuries or damage from the debris of the 175-foot, 23-metric-ton rocket,China’s actions drew criticism from NASA.

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, the Long March 5B Y3 carrier rocket, carrying Wentian lab module blasts off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Wenchang in southern China's Hainan Province Sunday, July 24, 2022.

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NASA administrator Bill Nelson said on Twitter that China didn’t share trajectory information of the rocket as it fell back to Earth. 

“All spacefaring nations should follow established best practices, and do their part to share this type of information in advance to allow reliable predictions of potential debris impact risk, especially for heavy-lift vehicles, like the Long March 5B, which carry a significant risk of loss of life and property,” Nelson said in a series of tweets. “Doing so is critical to the responsible use of space and to ensure the safety of people here on Earth.”

Videos shared on social media showed the night sky lighting up from the debris reentering the atmosphere. 

The incident comes after a similar one in May 2021, when debris from a rocket also used to send materials to the Tiangong space station fell uncontrollably back to Earth. After much uncertainty where it would fall, the debris landed in the Indian Ocean, with no injury or damages. 

At the time, NASA said China was “failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris.”

Contributing: Orlando Mayorquin, USA TODAY; Associated Press

Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.