Africa Among Potential Debris Crash Sites from Chinese Rocket

Debris from a Chinese rocket will potentially crash on Earth sometime over the next few days, with the potential it to land across a wide area of the globe, including Africa. This is as part of a Long March 5B rocket China launched on July 24 and will make an uncontrolled reentry around July 31, according to the Aerospace Corp. According to Aerospace’s predictions, the possible debris field includes much of the US, Africa, Australia, Brazil, India and Southeast Asia.

However, China has dismissed any concern over the reentry, and its impact, with state-backed media saying the warnings are just “sour grapes” from people resentful of the country’s development as a space power. The booster’s descent, which weighs 23 metric tons (25.4 tons), would be part of what critics have described as a series of uncontrolled crashes that highlights the risks of China’s escalating space race with the US. “Due to the uncontrolled nature of its descent, there is a non-zero probability of the surviving debris landing in a populated area — over 88% of the world’s population lives under the reentry’s potential debris footprint,” Aerospace said on Tuesday.

A similar debris scare has occurred twice in the last two years, the most recent being in May 2021. After about 10 days of speculation and controversy, a Chinese rocket booster crashed back to Earth on Sunday, 9 May. Furthermore, the debris reentered the atmosphere over the Arabian Peninsula at 02:15 GMT, according to U.S. Space Command.

Similarly, in 2020, China’s Long March-5B (the same type of rocket), which launched on Tuesday 5th of May 2020, made a similar uncontrolled re-entry. The U.S. Air Force reported that it re-entered the Atlantic Ocean on Monday, 11th of May, 2020. However, Pictures posted on social media showed what appeared to be a 12-meter-long pipe originating from the rocket that had landed in the village of Mahounou, Ivory Coast. Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics opined that the timing of the incidents and the villages’ location suggested they were from the rocket. Local reports suggested the pipe fell on a cheesemaker’s building in the Mahounou village in the Bocanda region. Another report said that a house in a village called N’guinou had also been damaged by falling debris. no casualties were reported.

China is a party to the Liability Convention. The Liability Convention governs issues resulting from damages caused by Space Objects, of which the Long March-5B is one. The Liability Convention ensures that damage caused on the surface of the Earth will absolute liability.