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Aerospace & Defense

China mocks US and says rocket debris landed within its estimates

'Hype and smears were in vain,' according to communist party mouthpiece

China's unmanned Long March 5B was launched into space on April 29 to transport a lab and living quarters to a space station, but its return to Earth was criticized as being uncontrolled and dangerous. (Xinhua/Kyodo)

SHANGHAI -- China refuted Monday "U.S. hype" that its rocket was falling back to Earth in an controlled way, and that landing points for the Long March 5B debris were within its estimates.

"As far as I know, the final stage of the rocket operation adopted passivation technology that would not cause any explosion during orbit and the dispersion of debris in space," foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters on Monday. "The bulk of the components were destroyed upon re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, and the likelihood of any harm to aviation activities and the ground was minimal."

Hua added that there has been no report of any damage at ground level and that China had shared the results of the rocket's re-entry forecast with an "international cooperation body," but she did not elaborate further.

Remnants of the rocket fell back to Earth at 10:24 local time on Sunday, crashing into the Indian Ocean near Maldives, according to the China Manned Space Agency.

Long March 5B, China's largest rocket, was launched on April 29 to transport the core part of what will become a lab and living quarters for astronauts to a Chinese space station that is due to be completed next year.

China revealed little about the logistics of the unmanned spacecraft, prompting space authorities in the U.S. and Europe to issue warnings days before the rocket's re-entry to Earth.

"Spacefaring nations must minimize the risks to people and property on Earth of re-entries of space objects and maximize transparency regarding those operations," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement after the debris landed. "It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris."

Global Times, the Chinese Communist Party's mouthpiece, said in a Sunday editorial that the U.S. authorities' and some media outlets' "hype and smears were in vain," as the landing points for the rocket debris were within its calculations.

"These people are jealous of China's rapid progress in space technology. They cannot stand the fact that in several years there will be only Chinese space station in orbit," it added.

If successful, the Chinese space station -- which is expected to run for 15 years -- could be the only space station in orbit when the NASA-led International Space Station reaches the end of its working life a decade from now.

Its construction reflects Beijing's broader ambition to lead in science and technology. China has been barred from the ISS since 2011 following the passing of a bill in the U.S. Congress to prevent accidental transfer of technology.

A Chinese spaceship is currently orbiting Mars ahead of a planned landing scheduled for mid-May. If successful, the country will be the second after the U.S. to land a rover on Mars, the nearest planet to Earth.

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