The rocket carrying China’s second module for its Tiangong space station lifts off from Wenchang spaceport in southern China on July 24, 2022. - China on July 24 launched the second of three modules needed to complete its new space station, state media reported, the latest step in Beijing's ambitious space programme. (Photo by CNS / AFP) / China OUT

A Chinese rocket has crashed from space over Southeast Asia. The Long March 5B launch vehicle entered Earth’s atmosphere over the Indian Ocean on Saturday, the US Army Space Department said on Twitter.

The Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Reentry Studies (CORDS) in California previously said the rocket was over the Indian Ocean at 6:45 p.m. German time. According to later Chinese information, the remains of the missile fell into the sea in Southeast Asia. Nasa criticized the hesitant communication on the part of the Chinese.

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In a statement released on Sunday, the Chinese space agency gave coordinates for an impact area in the Sulu Sea, nearly 60 kilometers off the east coast of the Philippine island of Palawan. “Most of the components were removed and destroyed upon re-entry,” it said.

Malaysia’s space agency said it observed rocket debris catching fire as it reentered the atmosphere before crashing into the Sulu Sea northeast of the island of Borneo.

The US space agency Nasa criticized Beijing for handling the incident. “The People’s Republic of China has not shared any specific trajectory information,” NASA chief Bill Nelson said on Saturday. However, this type of information exchange is “crucial for the responsible use of space and the safety of people here on earth”.

“All space nations should adhere to best practices” and share important information in a timely manner, Neslon said on Twitter. In the case of missiles such as the “Long March 5B” in particular, there is a “considerable risk of loss of life and property” due to debris.

The trajectory of the 33 meter long and 20 ton rocket upper stage had previously been observed with concern by space experts. China had received criticism from NASA for the fact that the rocket did not break up into smaller parts when it entered the atmosphere, as is the international standard.

Entering the atmosphere creates immense heat and friction, usually causing entering objects to burn up and disintegrate. However, larger objects – such as heavy launchers – may not be completely destroyed.

China launched the second of three modules for its Tiangong (Heaven’s Palace) space station, which is currently under construction, with a laboratory on board last Sunday. The Long March 5B rocket carried the unmanned module Wentian into Earth orbit within minutes.

The Chinese space agency spoke of a “complete success” after the launch. The new module is to dock with the core module “Tianhe”, which was launched in April 2021. The Tiangong space station is expected to be fully operational by the end of the year and will have a lifespan of ten years.

As early as 2020, debris from a Chinese missile had crashed over Ivory Coast, causing damage in some villages. There were no injuries or fatalities.