27 April: A large piece of metal that is believed to be part of a Chinese rocket has been discovered on a remote island in southwestern Japan. The object, which measures about 3 meters long and 2 meters wide, was found by a resident of Okinoerabujima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture on April 20.
The white metal piece has what appears to be part of the Chinese national flag and the words “exhaust vent” in Chinese characters painted on its surface.
An expert on China’s space development, Tsujino Teruhisa, who used to work for Japan’s space agency JAXA, says the object is highly likely to be the payload cover of a Chinese Long March rocket.
The payload cover, or fairing, is designed to protect satellites and other payloads from the atmosphere during launch. Tsujino says the debris may have fallen into the sea after separating from the rocket and then drifted to the island.
China announced on April 16 that it had successfully launched a Long March 4B rocket carrying a weather satellite named Fengyun-3E from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in Shanxi Province.
The country had also set up a no-fly zone over waters north of Taiwan for six hours on the morning of that day for what it called space activities, and banned the navigation of vessels in the area.
The Wadomari town office on Okinoerabujima Island says no damage or injuries have been reported so far due to the debris. The town officials say they have consulted the prefectural government for advice on how to deal with the object.
This is not the first time that Chinese rocket debris has caused concern. In May last year, a large piece of a Chinese Long March 5B rocket reentered the Earth’s atmosphere and landed in the Atlantic Ocean near West Africa.
The uncontrolled reentry sparked criticism from some countries and experts who said China had failed to ensure the safety of people and property on the ground.