India examining crashed space debris suspected to be parts of China’s Long March rocket (Image Credit: Space News)
SEOUL, South Korea — India’s space agency is examining a large metal ring and a cylinder-like object that fell into rural western India April 2, with a preliminary investigation suggesting they could be parts of a Chinese space rocket’s upper stage that reentered the atmosphere that day.
Two scientists from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) conducted the onsite investigation in Sindewahi on April 15. They tentatively labeled the objects as parts of a Chinese Long March rocket, according to local reports. A formal investigation is underway.
The metal ring is reportedly two to three meters in diameter and weighs more than 40 kilograms. The cylinder-like object is about a half meter in diameter.
Space-watcher Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics tweeted April 4 that the ring was consistent with a piece of China’s Long March 3B rocket. In another tweet, McDowell said the crashed objects could be parts of the third stage of Long March 3B serial number Y77, which was launched in February 2021. China remains silent on the reentry incident.
“They [two ISRO scientists] took photographs and videos of the objects and interacted with the Ladbori village people about the objects,” Suresh Chopne, an NGO activist who observed the investigation, told local English newspaper Hindustan Times. “As per their discussions, these objects are believed to be space debris from a Chinese Long March rocket. What type of fuel was there in the cylinders can be said only after it is checked by the laboratory.”
The objects were remnants of what appeared to be a meteor shower in the night sky of western India, April 2. Video footage shows a blazing streak of light cutting through the night sky.
“We were preparing a community feast, when the sky blazed with the red disc, which fell with a bang on an open plot in the village,” a villager told The Times of India. “People ran to their home fearing (an) explosion and remained inside for nearly half an hour.” There were no reports of injuries or property damage.
ISRO confirmed the crash of “a metal ring and a cylinder-like object” in an April 5 statement.
If the objects are confirmed to be parts of a Chinese rocket, it would be the second time in less than a year that debris from a Chinese rocket made a troubling re-entry.
In May 2021, remnants from the roughly 30-meter-long, five-meter-wide core stage of China’s Long March 5B rocket fell into the Indian Ocean after days of speculation — and China’s silence — about where the debris would land. NASA criticized China for “failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris.”
One year earlier, debris from another Long March 5B fell onto at least two villages in the Ivory Coast, following an uncontrolled re-entry of the rocket’s core stage.
In November 2019, a spent stage of Long March 3B fell near the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China, destroying a house.