Huge chunk of metal found in Indonesia believed to be Chinese rocket debris

Local authorities say object, which is 5 metres long by 2m, is likely to be radioactive

People watch a Long March 5B rocket, carrying China's Tianhe space station core module, as it lifts off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in southern China's Hainan province on April 29, 2021. (Photo by AFP) / China OUT
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Large pieces of metal found in Indonesian and Malaysian villages are thought to be debris from a Chinese rocket that made an uncontrolled re-entry into Earth earlier this week.

One huge piece was discovered at a village on the Indonesian side of the Malaysian-Indonesian border on Monday, local media reported.

On July 30, remnants of the Long March 5B, China’s largest rocket, fell back to Earth after a fiery re-entry over the Indian Ocean.

Videos of what is believed to be the debris entering the atmosphere was captured by people in Malaysia and Indonesia, which quickly went viral.

We strongly advise everyone to not approach the location due to suspected presence of radioactive substance in the object
Indonesian police statement

Villagers and police at the border investigated a 5-metre long and 2-metre wide charred metal piece that was found.

“We have cordoned off the site to prevent intruders from coming in,” an Indonesian police officer told local media.

“We strongly advise everyone to not approach the location due to suspected presence of radioactive substance in the object,” he said, adding that his team would co-ordinate with the West Kalimantan police in handling the situation.

“For now, the origin of the object is not known for sure, but on Saturday night at 23.09pm (12.09am Malaysian time), some residents in Pengadang did hear a ‘loud roar from the sky’,” he said.

A resident in the area reported the sighting of the debris to the village chief, after suspecting that it could be remnants from the rocket.

Similar unidentified objects have also been discovered in parts of Malaysia.

Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, told The Guardian that the metal appeared to be the same size as the Chinese rocket’s core stage.

“It looks like the end cap of a rocket stage propellant tank,” he said.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s from the rocket … it’s in the right place at the right time and looks like it is from the right kind of rocket.”

The rocket was launched on July 24 and carried the Wentian space station module into orbit.

During the core stage’s re-entry, most of the debris reportedly burnt up in the atmosphere, but up to 40 per cent could have survived.

China had said that the pieces fell into the Sulu Sea, in the south-western area of the Philippines.

Nasa administrator Bill Nelson criticised China for not sharing a trajectory of the rocket debris.

“The People’s Republic of China did not share specific trajectory information as their Long March 5B rocket fell back to Earth,” he said.

“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.”

Last year in May, remnants of another Long March 5B made an uncontrolled re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere and fell into the Indian Ocean.

The event caused anxiety and a sharp rebuke from the US space agency.

Another uncontrolled re-entry is expected in October when China launches its Mengtian module into orbit.

These modules will help complete China’s Tiangong space station in low-Earth orbit.


Updated: August 02, 2022, 12:01 PM