Philippines-China relations

PH Space Agency urges caution as Chinese rocket debris projected to fall near Recto Bank

Sofia Tomacruz
PH Space Agency urges caution as Chinese rocket debris projected to fall near Recto Bank
The Philippine Space Agency says unburned rocket debris is expected from the Long March 3B rocket launching from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Xichang, China

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Space Agency (PhilSa) has urged aircraft and vessel operators to take “precautionary measures” as debris from a Chinese rocket to be launched past noon on Thursday, December 29, was projected to fall in the vicinity of Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea.

In an advisory issued Tuesday morning, PhilSa said unburned debris such as rocket boosters and payload firing was expected to fall “within a drop zone area located within the vicinity of Recto bank, approximately 137 kilometers from Ayungin Shoal and 200 kilometers from Quezon, Palawan.”

PhilSa – citing a notice issued by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) to the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) – had put out a notice on the estimated drop zone for debris after it confirmed details on the planned launch of the Long March 3B rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Xichang, Sichuan Province, China.

The agency said the launch was scheduled to take place between 12:33 pm and 01:10 pm, Philippine time, on Thursday.

“While not projected to fall on land features or inhabited areas within the Philippine territory, falling debris poses danger and potential risk to ships, aircraft, fishing boats, and other vessels that will pass through the drop zone,” PhilSa said.

While projections on where debris may fall were made, the agency also warned that the actual drop zone area could still change due to climate conditions, the weather, and the earth’s rotation. Debris may also float around waters and wash toward nearby coasts, PhilSa said.

“Furthermore, the possibility of an uncontrolled re-entry to the atmosphere of the rocket’s upper stages returning from outer space cannot be ruled out at this time,” it added.

The agency reiterated its call to the public to inform local authorities if they spot suspected debris, and to refrain from retrieving or coming into close contact with rocket remnants which could contain toxic substances like rocket fuel.

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Rocket debris in the West Philippine Sea has been a recent source of confrontation between the Philippine and China, with the Marcos administration filing a protest against Beijing earlier this month over the Chinese Coast Guard’s forceful seizure of such items from Philippine soldiers near Pag-Asa Island.

On November 20, a Chinese coast guard ship “forcefully retrieved” a floating object being towed by a Philippine vessel in the West Philippine Sea, according to the Philippine Navy. The incident happened the same day United States Vice President Kamala Harris landed in Manila for a quick visit that sought to strengthen US-Philippine ties. (READ: Kamala Harris makes historic trip to Palawan: ‘We are committed to you’) – Rappler.com

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.