China launches satellite, rocket debris falls near Taiwan

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China’s launch of a weather satellite caused debris from the launcher to fall into Taiwan’s waters. 

On April 16, 2023, China used a Long March 4B rocket to put the weather satellite Fengyun 3G into orbit. The launch took place at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, in Gansu Province, northern China. 

The Fengyun 3 constellation is composed of low-earth orbit satellites designed to track various meteorological data. Fengyun 3G, the eighth satellite put into operation, will measure rainfall. 

For six hours, air and maritime traffic was disrupted north of Taiwan. The maritime safety administration of Fujian, the Chinese province located opposite Taiwan, warned of a “possible fall of debris from a launcher.” 

Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said it monitored what it described as a military launch and confirmed having “detected some debris falling into the northern waters of Taiwan.” 33 flights were affected, Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration said, quoted by Reuters

The launch took place amid reheated tensions between Taiwan and China. Between April 8 and 10, 2023, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army organized large-scale military maneuvers in Taiwan’s vicinity, involving air and naval assets which simulated a military blockade of the island. 

The recurring issue of China’s Long March rocket debris 

 China’s space program has been the target of criticism in the past due to the uncontrolled nature of its Long March rocket launches.  

In early 2021, two launches of Long March 5B rockets to carry elements of the Chinese Space Station (CSS) caused strong reactions, with Western space agencies criticizing the use of uncontrolled atmospheric re-entry. 

“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 at the time. “It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris.” 

In November 2022, hundreds of flights were disrupted after falling debris caused airspace closures over Southern Europe. 

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