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China rocket crash in the Indian Ocean

Published: 17th May, 2021

An uncontrolled re-entry of Chinese rocket made into the Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrated over the Indian Ocean.


An uncontrolled re-entry of Chinese rocket made into the Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrated over the Indian Ocean.


About the crash over the Indian Ocean

  • The debris came from the upper stage of Long March 5B rocket, which is China’s largest.
    • It was launched into space for putting into orbit a core module of the new Tianhe space station, which is expected to become operational in 2022.
    • It was 10-floor large vehicle of the rocket that weighed 18 metric tonnes.
    • It went into orbit along with the section of the under-construction space station which it was carrying.
    • In orbit, the vehicle kept rubbing against the air at the top of the atmosphere, and the resulted friction caused it to start losing altitude.
    • The piece hurtled through a low-Earth orbit at roughly 25,490 km/hr.
  • When rockets carry their payload into space, their booster stages fire the engine again after completing their job so that it can drop back to Earth and not remain in orbit.
  • Space agencies ensure that such rocket parts end up in uninhabited areas, like as the middle of the ocean.

Long March 5

  • It is also known as Chang Zheng 5.
  • It is a Chinese heavy-lift launch vehicle which is developed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology.
  • It is the first Chinese launch vehicle that is designed to use non-hypergolic liquid propellants exclusively.
  • There are two CZ-5 variants: CZ-5 and CZ-5B.
  • The maximum payload capacity for for CZ-5B is approximately 25,000 kg to low Earth orbit and for CZ-5, it is approximately 14,000 kg to geostationary transfer orbit.
  • It is presently the most powerful member of Long March rocket family.
  • It is the world's third most powerful orbital launch vehicle after the Falcon Heavy and Delta IV Heavy.

Major Concerns

  • Set standard: According to the standard practice when a rocket is launched, its discarded booster stages re-enter the atmosphere after its liftoff and it harmlessly fall into the ocean.
  • The incident has raised questions about the space technology that China is developing, and the probability of harm being caused to populated areas in the future.
  • China chose not to do this for its Long March rocket, leading to its vehicle crashing back uncontrollably.
  • China’s plan to launch 10 more missions like this until 2022 to complete the Tianhe has thus sparked worry that pieces from its rockets could end up causing injuries.

Some Earlier crashes

  • SpaceX rocket stage made an uncontrolled landing on a farm in Washington state in the US.
  • In 1979, when the NASA space station Skylab was brought down, some of the debris ended up in Australia.
  • In 1978, a nuclear-powered Soviet satellite crashed in Canada.
  • In May 2020, pieces from another Long March rocket of the same 5B variant had crashed on Ivory Coast.
  • In 1991, Collapse of the former Soviet space station Salyut 7

United Nations (UN) Treaties

  • International space laws have been created under the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS).
  • Three treaties with potential relevance to orbital debris issues have entered into force:
    • Outer Space Treaty, 1967:  the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies.
    • The Liability Convention, 1972: the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects.
    • The Registration Convention, 1976: the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space.

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