Chinese spacecraft returns amid concerns over booster rockets

BEIJING (AP) — A Chinese cargo spacecraft that served the country’s permanently orbiting space station largely burned up on re-entry, amid separate concerns over China’s decision to allow a huge booster rocket to fall to Earth unchecked.

Only small parts of the Tianzhou-3 ship survived to fall safely into a predetermined area in the South Pacific on Wednesday, China’s Manned Space Agency said.

Until July 17, the spacecraft was docked at the main Tianhe section of the station and its return follows the addition of a laboratory module on Monday as China prepares to complete the station within months. coming.

China’s space program is run by the military wing of the ruling Communist Party, the People’s Liberation Army, and has largely continued the space station program without help from other nations. The United States barred China from the International Space Station because of its military ties.

The booster that caught the attention of the space community was part of the huge 23-tonne Long March 5B-Y3 rocket – China’s most powerful – which carried the Wentian module to the station, on board which currently reside three astronauts.

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China has decided not to guide the booster through the atmosphere and it is unclear when or where it will descend to Earth. Although largely burning on return, there remains a slight risk of fragments causing damage or casualties.

Although China is not alone in practicing such practices, the size of the Long March rocket stage has come under particular scrutiny.

China has allowed rocket stages to fall back to Earth on their own at least twice before, and was accused by NASA last year of “failing to meet responsible standards for their space debris” after parts of a Chinese rocket landed in the Indian Ocean.

China also drew heavy criticism after it used a missile to destroy one of its old weather satellites in 2007, creating a massive debris field.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian dismissed those concerns on Wednesday.

“Since the development phase of the space engineering program, China has taken into consideration the mitigation of debris and the return from orbit to the atmosphere of missions involving rocket carriers and satellites sent into orbit,” Zhao said during a daily briefing on Wednesday.

“It is understood that this type of rocket adopts a special engineering design that most components will be burned and destroyed during the re-entry process,” Zhao said. “The possibility of causing damage to aerial or ground activities is extremely low.”

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