Spanish airspace partially closed as Chinese rocket debris hit Earth

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A large chunk of the massive rocket used to carry the third module of China’s Tiangong space station fell back to Earth uncontrolled, resulting in the closure of part of Spanish airspace and causing hundreds of flight delays.

Four days after taking off from southern China, much of the Long March 5B (CZ-5B) rocket failed as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere over the South-Central Pacific Ocean at 10:01 UTC, according to European And US space authorities.

The EU Space Surveillance and Tracking (EUSST) operations centers, which monitored the return of the fragment to Earth, said the rocket’s central stage was about 30 meters long and weighed between 17 and 23 tons, making it “one of the most large fragments of debris re-enter the present past ”- and something worth keeping an eye on.

His return led the Spanish air navigation authority, Enaire, to impose airspace restrictions in the northeastern parts of the country, including Catalonia and the Balearic Islands.

In a statement, it reads: “Given the uncontrolled entry of the remains of the Chinese space object CZ-5B into a descending orbit that crosses our national territory, Enaire, in accordance with the recommendations of the European Union Agency for the aviation security and inter-ministerial agency directorates led by the Department of Homeland Security have established an airspace exclusion zone of 100 km on both sides of the orbit of the space object. “

Related: As more space junk falls to Earth, will China clean up its act?

A later update claimed that the airspace closure, which lasted from 9:37 on Friday until 10:17, had caused flight delays of half an hour. Spanish airport operator, Aenasaid 300 of the 5,484 scheduled flights at its 46 airports were affected.

It was the fourth flight of the Long March 5B since its inaugural launch in May 2020. On its first deployment, fragments of the rocket landed on Côte d’Ivoire, damaging several buildings in the West African nation, though no injuries were reported. .

The debris from the second flight landed harmlessly in the Indian Ocean, while the remnants of the third landed in the Sulu Sea in the Philippines.

During a regular briefing on Friday, Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, said the reentry of the rocket into the atmosphere is a common international practice.

“It is understood [this] rocket type… uses special technology designed so that the vast majority of components… are destroyed by ablation upon reentry into the atmosphere and the likelihood of causing damage to aviation and ground is extremely low, ”said Zhao.

Reuters contributed to this report

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