Days after its successful launch into the space, a huge chunk of a Chinese rocket has fallen back to the Earth. The debris of Chinese Long March 5B (CZ–5B) rocket, measuring at 17.8 tonnes, was first spotted by the US Air Force's 18th Space Control Squadron.
The massive segment splashed down into the Atlantic Ocean. The re-entry of CZ-5B is the second biggest uncontrollable descent of space junk in history. The first such incident took place in 1991 when a 39-tonne Salyut–7 fell into the Earth’s atmosphere.
The 18th Space Control Squadron of the US Air Force confirmed the incident concerning the Chinese rocket in a tweet. “#18SPCS has confirmed the reentry of the CZ-5B R/B (#45601, 2020-027C) at 08:33 PDT on 11 May, over the Atlantic Ocean. The #CZ5B launched China’s test crew capsule on 5 May 2020. #spaceflightsafety,” read the post.
Astronaut Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics also confirmed the news, along with the tracking images of the CZ-5B.
CZ-5B core stage reentry confirmed down at 1533 UTC, off the west coast of Africa https://t.co/hzePzF0THc— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) May 11, 2020
And the TIP message is out, showing reentry at 1534 UTC at location 20W 20N, just before the ground track passed over Nouakchott. pic.twitter.com/wcQ7BmJblk— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) May 11, 2020
Sharing further updates on the debris of CZ-5B near Mahounou village in Cote d'Ivoire, McDowell tweeted, “The reports from Cote d'Ivoire say the only casualty of the falling debris object was a machine: apparently the cheesemaker was blessed by being transfixed with this space piping.”
Reports of a 12-m-long object crashing into the village of Mahounou in Cote d'Ivoire. It's directly on the CZ-5B reentry track, 2100 km downrange from the Space-Track reentry location. Possible that part of the stage could have sliced through the atmo that far (photo: Aminata24) pic.twitter.com/yMuyMFLfsv— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) May 12, 2020
According to Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua, the test crew capsule was launched on May 5 from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan. The launch was successful and the prototype spacecraft even “successfully landed” back on Earth after 2 days and 19 hours in orbit.