VSHina has made few friends lately with the serial and uncontrolled re-entries of depleted first stages of her Long March 5B spacecraft, which have posed potential threats to populations on the ground. Now, while South China morning shift reports, a Chinese rocket has created another mess, this time orbiting 500 km (310 mi) above Earth, at an altitude that could jeopardize SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation.
At a Monday press conference in Beijing, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman admitted that the first stage of a Chinese Long March 6A rocket broke up in orbit after delivering an ocean observation satellite. in the space. The first stage usually re-enters the atmosphere and burns down. Preparing for reentry, the stage is emptying its unused fuel, and a possible explosion during this exercise is believed to have led to the breakup. It is also possible that the stage disintegrated when it collided with other space junk.
Whatever the cause, the accident is a source of problems. A scientist from the Netherlands Institute of Radio Astronomy reported observing more than 40 fragments “rotating rapidly, giving very distinct flash patterns”.
Read more: China sends another rocket stage hurtling uncontrollably towards Earth
The incident has sparked speculation the breakup was deliberate, as China officially opposes the Starlink constellation, saying it could threaten the country’s national security – a concern that has only grown since then. as the constellation has helped Ukraine in its war with Russia by providing the Ukrainian military with broadband service.
But there is also a good reason why China would have no incentive to organize such an incident: the Chinese space station Tiangong circles the Earth in a slightly lower orbit and could be in the path of debris during of his descent.
“There are three Chinese astronauts up there,” said a Beijing-based space scientist, who asked that his name be withheld due to the sensitivity of the issue. Morning Job. “The chance that [the debris] will hit the space station is low, but I don’t think anyone would be willing to add to the risk.
More must-reads from TIME