The Philippine Space Agency (PhilSA) has confirmed that the torn metal sheet fishermen recovered from the West Philippine Sea was part of the Long March 5B (CZ-5B) rocket of China.
According to PhilSA the Long March 5 is a “heavy-lift launch vehicle” manufactured by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle. The rocket is carrying the Wential Laboratory module from the Wenchang Launch Center in Hainan Island, China.
It was launched on July 24 at around 2 p.m.
PhilSA shared that the Wential laboratory module is part of China’s effort to build the Tiangong space station. The module is expected to house a series of experiments and extra sleeping quarters for astronauts.
The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) reported on Aug.2 the retrieval of a torn metal sheet from the West Philippine Sea, 100 miles off the coast of Mamburao, Occidental Mindoro. The material, found earlier by fishermen, bears a part of the Chinese flag and a portion of the marking of the rocket.
“However, the said debris is not part of the components that re-entered the atmosphere on 31 July. The debris retrieved by PCG Mamburao was identified to be part of the CZ-5B’s payload fairing, which detaches from the rocket as it enters outer space during launch,” PhilSA said,
“These discarded rocket stages are usually designed and planned to shed over specific dropzones. The drop zones are usually bodies of water and are selected to minimize the hazards of falling onto populated areas,” it added.
Prior to the rocket launch on July 24, PhilSA stated that it proactively issued an advisory to all relevant government agencies about the launch and the estimated dropzone locations of the rocket debris. Teams have been mobilized and prepared to implement coordination protocols with other national government agencies for the issuance of actionable information as necessary, during the debris re-entry on 31 July.
Meanwhile, PhilSA urged the public to immediately inform local authorities of suspected debris sighted at sea or land.
“PhilSA cautions everyone against retrieving or coming in close proximity to these materials, since fallen rocket debris may contain remnants of toxic substances such as rocket fuel,” it said.
The said rocket re-entered the atmosphere over the Indian Ocean on July 31 at 12:45 a.m. Components of CZ-5B were also reportedly seen over Malaysian airspace, moments before the landing trajectory ended in the Sulu Sea near Palawan.
PhilSA said that it will continue to coordinate with relevant government agencies and partners such as the PCG and National Coast Watch Center to ensure the proper handling of the debris.