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Moon-bound rocket booster not ours, says China

February 21, 2022

China has denied responsibility for a spent rocket booster set to slam into the far side of the moon. The announcement comes amid a growing debate about dangerous space junk.

 Long March 3C rocket
China denies that part of one of its Long March 3C rockets is about to hit the moonImage: Xinhua/imago images

The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Monday denied US claims that a spent rocket booster expected to crash into the far side of the moon next month is a leftover from a Chinese 2014 lunar mission.  

A spokesman said the booster in question, which NASA recently said was likely from China's Chang'e 5-T1 mission, had "safely entered the Earth's atmosphere and was completely incinerated."

"China follows international law for development of space affairs, and will safeguard the long-term development of outer space activities and conduct wider consultations with relevant sides," the spokesman said.

The issue of the derelict booster has provoked a renewed debate about space debris and how to keep track of it, with both unmanned and manned spacecraft endangered by possible collisions. The impact of the rocket booster on the moon is, however, not predicted to cause any problems.

Varying identification

The rocket booster was initially identified by an independent researcher as a used Falcon rocket stage from Elon Musk's SpaceX.

But the US space agency NASA said earlier this month that the space debris was more likely to have been left over from China's Chang'e 5-T1 mission launched in 2014.

That mission, which saw an unmanned Chang'e 5-T1 spacecraft carried into space on a three-stage Long March 3C rocket in October 2014, aimed to test the ability of the return capsule to re-enter Earth's atmosphere. The test was successful, with the capsule landing back on Earth the same month.

The mission was part of China's lunar exploration program, in the course of which the country hopes to eventually send humans to the moon. Chinese lunar probe designer Ye Peijian recently told state broadcaster CCTV that it was "entirely possible" to reach this goal before 2030.

tj/dj (AFP, AP)