Rocket debris is dangerous: PhilSA explains after Chinese satellite launch

September 14, 2022 - 1:24 PM
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Photo of the Philippines from Soichi Noguchi, astronaut of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) (Soichi Noguchi/Twitter)

The Philippine Space Agency warned the public against possible rocket debris that will fall from a Chinese satellite.

China on September 13 launched a communication satellite called Chang Zheng 7A (CZ-7A), internationally known as the Long March 7A (LM-7A), from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island.

In a statement, the PhilSA said that it has estimated two drop zones of the rocket debris from this launch.

These are the following areas:

  • Drop zone 1 is approximately 71 kilometers from Burgos, Ilocos Norte
  • Drop zone 2 is approximately 52 kilometers away from Sta. Ana, Cagayan

The PhilSA managed to verify these areas in prior coordination with the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP).

The Civil Aviation Administration of China also issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) that allowed the country’s space agency to identify the drop zones.

A NOTAM is a “notice containing information essential to personnel concerned with flight operations.”

“PhilSA submitted this information as well as other actionable details in a report issued to all relevant government agencies before the launch,” PhilSA said.

While debris from CZ-7A might not fall on inhabited areas, the agency pointed out that it still poses threat to ships, aircraft and other types of vessels.

“While debris from CZ-7A is unlikely to fall on land features or inhabited areas in the Philippine territory, falling debris still poses a considerable threat to ships, aircraft, fishing boats, and other vessels that will pass through the drop zones,” it said.

Because of these risks, PhilSA advised the public to immediately report to their local authorities any suspected floating debris at sea.

“PhilSA wishes to reiterate its earlier advice to the public to immediately inform local authorities if suspected floating debris is sighted at sea. PhilSA also cautions everyone against retrieving or coming in close contact with these materials,” the agency said.

What happened before

PhilSA recalled that in July, debris from another Chinese rocket, the Long March 5B, landed on Philippine waters.

“In the case of Long March 7A, the possibility of a similar uncontrolled reentry of the rocket’s upper stages cannot be ruled out at this time,” the space agency said.

Debris from the Chinese spacecraft at that time fell into the Sulu Sea near Palawan on July 31.

Following this launch, in a previous statement, PhilSA hoped that spacefaring nations to be more compliant with the protocols stated in the United Nations Space Treaty to prevent damage or injury on Earth.

“This will eliminate the potential damage, harm or injury, or even loss of life on Earth,” it said.

The UN Space Treaty is an international treaty that provides the basic framework and principles for the exploration and use of outer space.

It was in full effect in October 1967.

The news of another possible Chinese debris falling in Philippine waters irked Filipinos online.

“So ano, anxiety ang bigay niyan sa mga residente ng Ilocos at Sta Ana? Basura na nga nila, may risk pa, kundi ba naman,” one user said.

“Dapat pagmultahin ang China sa nangyaring yan,” another user commented.

Others lamented that the Philippines is becoming a “junk shop” for these Chinese activities.