Remains of a Chinese rocket that delivered spy satellites burned up over the skies of Nepal on Saturday, just days after a similar incident occurred over Texas last week, USNI News has learned.
The second stage of the Chang Zheng 2D ‘Long March’ rocket reentered the atmosphere on Saturday after more than 200 days in space and burned up over the skies of Nepal, according to astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell.
The four-ton piece of space junk was part of the China National Space Administration’s Y-65 mission that delivered a trio of military electronic surveillance satellites during a launch from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in central China on July 29, McDowell told USNI News.
On Wednesday, a rocket that launched from the same facility with a similar payload broke up over Texas – entering the atmosphere over Marathon before leaving a debris field hundreds of miles long and miles wide over rural Texas – after dropping off a trio of spy satellites set to monitor the South China Sea.
The Yaogan 35 launches had a deorbit sail attached to their CZ-2D upper stage rockets to ensure their rapid reentry. 3 days after reentry of the first of these over Texas, the second one reentered Mar 11 1808 UTC over western Nepal after 225 days in space.
— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) March 12, 2023
Both rockets were fitted with a specialized deorbit sail designed to keep the second stages from lingering in orbit as hazards to other satellites, however, where they would splash down was not part of the planning.
“The plan when they launched it was for it to reenter somewhere random in the world at some unpredictable time sometime this year,” McDowell told USNI News.
“That may not be a good plan or a very specific one, but it’s sort of a plan.”
Last week, U.S. Space Command confirmed to USNI News the basic details of the Long March section that broke up over Texas, categorized it as a “high-risk, uncontrolled” reentry and called for better international norms.
Space Command acknowledged questions from USNI News about whether China had issued any notification or if the U.S. and China discussed the breakup of the Long March over Texas, but did not immediately provide a response.
The State Department referred USNI News to SPACECOM. NASA did not return a request for comment.
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the break up of the Long March rocket over Texas a “dangerous situation” that “is a direct result of China’s reckless pursuit of military dominance,” in a statement to USNI News.
“The Chinese Communist Party has demonstrated no regard for the sovereignty of United States airspace or the safety of our citizens … The Biden administration should be engaging Congress on these threats – not addressing these challenges reactively.”
China has been widely criticized for allowing uncontrolled reentry of its space debris. In November, a 23-ton stage from its Long March 5 rocket made an uncontrolled landing into the Pacific, but not before prompting worldwide warnings.
“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. Doing so is critical to the responsible use of space and to ensure the safety of people here on Earth,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement from a similar incident in July.