The Philippine Coast Guard reported on August 2, 2022 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 Long March 5B (CZ-5B) rocket. Upon visual verification, the Philippine Space Agency (PhilSA) confirmed that the debris was part of CZ-5B.
However, the debris found was not part of the components that re-entered the atmosphere on July 31. 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. These discarded rocket stages are usually designed and planned to shed over specific dropzones. The dropzones are usually bodies of water and are selected to minimize the hazards of falling onto populated areas.
Prior to the rocket launch on 24 July, PhilSA 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.
PhilSA has advised to the public to immediately inform local authorities of suspected debris sighted at sea or land, and has cautioned everyone against retrieving or coming in close proximity to these materials, as fallen rocket debris may contain remnants of toxic substances such as rocket fuel.
The rocket, launched on July 24, re-entered the atmosphere over the Indian Ocean on 31 July 12:45 AM Philippine Standard Time. Components of CZ-5B were also reportedly seen over the Malaysian airspace, moments before the landing trajectory ended in the Sulu Sea near Palawan. Other pieces of debris were reported to have been found in Borneo.
PhilSA will continue to coordinate with relevant government agencies and partners such as the Philippine Coast Guard and National Coast Watch Center to ensure the proper handling of the debris.
(Photos c/o the Philippine Coast Guard via Frances Mangosing/Philippine Daily Inquirer)