Suspected Debris From Chinese Rocket Falls Onto Three Indian Villages

Suspected Debris From Chinese Rocket Falls Onto Three Indian Villages
The debris that landed in India may have been a result of a Chinese rocket. (Image: Liao Jian, AP)

An area on the western coast of India has been hit by fragments of space debris that may have been a result of a Chinese rocket re-entering the atmosphere and breaking up into smaller pieces. Sadly, this is becoming an all-too-familiar story.

The fragments crashed onto the villages of Bhalej, Khambholaj, and Rampura, all located in India’s Gujarat state, on May 12, as reported in the Indian Express. Villagers reportedly heard loud thuds and went outside to find large black metal balls weighing around 11 pounds (5 kilograms). There were no reported injuries across the three villages, which are all located within approximately 9 miles (15 kilometers) of each other.

This is the second time in less than two months that pieces of space debris have fallen onto India. Earlier in April, a large metal ring and a cylinder-shaped object fell onto parts of rural western India, the likely source being a re-entering upper stage of a Chinese Long March rocket.

Authorities in India are still investigating the source of the new debris, but it may have been caused by yet another Chinese rocket re-entering Earth’s atmosphere. The third stage from a Chinese Long March 3B rocket re-entered Earth’s atmosphere on the same day the debris fell from the sky, astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell from the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics wrote on Twitter. The Long March rockets are heavy-lift launch vehicles that weigh about 21 metric tons.

Generally, rocket engineers account for a re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere and either build the rocket stage with a booster to manoeuvre it to a remote, safe crash zone or with a stabilisation system that slows down its re-entry. But China’s Long March rockets tend to free fall their way back into Earth’s atmosphere in an uncontrolled manner, which is obviously not ideal.

In May 2021, a Chinese Long March 5B rocket fell into the Indian Ocean after making an uncontrolled reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. And in May 2020, another incoming Long March 5B rocket caused pieces of debris to fall onto two villages in Cote d’Ivoire, resulting in damage to homes.

China needs to take greater care of its rockets after launch, particularly as it seeks to expand its role as a spacefaring nation. Because eventually someone’s going to get hurt or even killed.