China’s Historic Methane-Fueled Orbital Rocket Launch Fails, Creates New Debris Field Near Starlink Satellites

More than 50 debris pieces from the rocket breakup are now “tumbling swiftly” dangerously near the satellite orbit utilized by Starlink.

On Nov. 12, a Chinese rocket suddenly disintegrated into more than 50 pieces in an orbit quite near that of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites, according to The South China Morning Post.

According to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, Mao Ning, acknowledged that a Long March 6A rocket had been destroyed while in orbit, but she was unable to specify what had gone wrong.

According to Ning, the occurrence in question will have no effect on either the Chinese space station or the International Space Station.

The rocket disintegrated between 310 and 435 miles (500 and 700 kilometers) above Earth, which is significant because thousands of Starlink satellites orbit at this altitude (500km).

Launch of the Zhuque-2 rocket.
Launch of the Zhuque-2 rocket. Source: @CNSAWatcher

An astronomer from the Netherlands Center for Radio Astronomy named Cees Bassa has verified that at least 43 pieces of the rocket are “tumbling quickly.”

Bassa thinks the rocket failed soon after releasing the Yunhai-3 ocean monitoring satellite it was carrying, despite the Chinese government’s failure to provide an explanation for why the rocket disintegrated while in orbit.

During its two successive trips above the US, the rocket was seen to be leaking fuel. Although it is common practice for rockets to empty their fuel tanks before deorbiting, Cees is concerned that something went wrong during this procedure.

A team of Chinese experts asked China to devise strategies to disable or destroy Starlink satellites back in May. That raises the question: Was this an accident or a test? The release of debris in the same orbit has the potential to accomplish exactly that.

According to a Chinese researcher who requested anonymity and spoke to SCMP, it’s very improbable that the debris field was purposefully constructed. Three Chinese astronauts are now in orbit, and three more will be joining them shortly, he said.

Source: PcMag

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Written by Alex Bruno

Freelance space writer Alex Bruno specializes in covering China's quickly expanding space industry. In 2021, he started writing for SpaceXMania. He also contributes to publications including SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, and New Scientist. When Alex was a small child, he first experienced the space bug after seeing Voyager photographs of alien planets in our solar system. When not in space, Alex likes to go trail jogging in the Finnish countryside.

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