Investigators with the Indian space agency say a 9-foot-wide metal ring and a large cylindrical object, among other bits of debris that fell onto a western Indian village in early April, were likely produced by a Chinese rocket that disintegrated on re-entry.
The falling debris coincided with reports of flashing lights seen in the skies over Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh during the evening of April 2, according to an Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Facebook post, which added that a metal ring and cylinder-like object fell onto an open field in Pawanpur village.
“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,” an unnamed woman told the Times of India. The woman, an inhabitant of Maharashtra’s Chandrapur district, said “people ran to their home fearing [an] explosion and remained inside for nearly half an hour.”
The Hindustan Times reports that locals in eastern Maharashtra were “shocked to see six metallic spheres, metal balls and a metallic ring falling from the sky,” the latter of which measured over 9 feet in diameter (3 meters). In an April 3 tweet, spaceflight expert Jonathan McDowell from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said the ring is “consistent with being part of the CZ-3B third stage tankage” belonging to a Chinese Long March 3B rocket.
That these bits and pieces belong to a Chinese rocket is a distinct possibility. The third stage of the rocket, which launched on February 4, 2021, was expected to re-enter through Earth’s atmosphere in early April, McDowell said in an April 2 tweet. What’s more, videos (apparently) taken the same night appear to show incoming space debris over India. Chinese officials have not yet commented on the incident.
At the request of local officials, state investigators visited a local police station in Sindewahi on April 15, which is where the objects are being kept, according to the Hindustan Times. Here’s what Suresh Chopne, president of Sky Watch Group, told the Times:
“The two scientists who came from ISRO spent a day at Sindewahi with the objects found at various spots in Chandrapur district. They took photographs and videos of the objects and interacted with the Ladbori village people about the objects. They collected as much information as possible from the local people. As per their discussions, these objects are believed to be space debris from the 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 scientists said their full report will be submitted next week, but their preliminary investigation suggests the debris originated from the Chinese Long March rocket launched last year. If confirmed, that would mark the second time in a year that a Chinese rocket stage made a less-than-ideal return to Earth.
In April 2021, a 23-ton core stage of China’s Long March 5B rocket inadvertently entered low Earth orbit during launch, resulting in an uncontrolled re-entry and a (harmless) splashdown onto the Indian Ocean on May 9. A similar thing occurred in 2020, when another Long March 5B produced debris that damaged buildings on the Ivory Coast, thankfully with no reported injuries. China appears to be nonchalant, and even reckless, in its approach to launching rockets. It’s fortunate that no one has been hurt or killed, but China needs to stop gambling with people’s lives and property.