WASHINGTON: A Chinese rocket fell back to Earth over the Indian Ocean on Saturday (Jul 30), but NASA said that Beijing had not shared the "specific trajectory information" needed to know where possible debris might fall.
United States Space Command said that the Long March 5B rocket re-entered over the Indian Ocean at about 12.45pm EDT (4.45pm GMT) on Saturday, but referred questions about the "re-entry’s technical aspects such as potential debris dispersal impact location" to China.
"All spacefaring nations should follow established best practices and do their part to share this type of information in advance to allow reliable predictions of potential debris impact risk," NASA administrator Bill Nelson said.
"Doing so is critical to the responsible use of space and to ensure the safety of people here on Earth."
Social media users in Malaysia posted video of what appeared to be rocket debris.
The Aerospace Corporation, a government funded non-profit research centre near Los Angeles, said that it was reckless to allow the rocket's entire main-core stage - which weighs 22.5 tons - to return to Earth in an uncontrolled re-entry.
Earlier this week, analysts said that the rocket body would disintegrate as it plunged through the atmosphere but is large enough that numerous chunks would likely survive a fiery re-entry to rain debris over an area about 2,000km long by about 70km wide.
The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately comment. China said earlier this week that it would closely track the debris but said it posed little risk to anyone on the ground.
The Long March 5B blasted off on Jul 24 to deliver a laboratory module to the new Chinese space station under construction in orbit, marking the third flight of China's most powerful rocket since its maiden launch in 2020.
Fragments of another Chinese Long March 5B landed in the Ivory Coast in 2020, damaging several buildings in that West African nation, though no injuries were reported.
By contrast, Nelson said, the US and most other spacefaring nations generally go to the added expense of designing their rockets to avoid large, uncontrolled re-entries - an imperative largely observed since large chunks of the NASA space station Skylab fell from orbit in 1979 and landed in Australia.
Last year, NASA and others accused China of being opaque after the Beijing government kept silent about the estimated debris trajectory or the re-entry window of its last Long March rocket flight in May 2021.
Debris from that flight ended up landing harmlessly in the Indian Ocean.