Objects that crashed to the ground in China have been identified as space debris, state media reported, after a Russian rocket carrying a communications satellite fell back to Earth minutes after lift-off.
Qiqihar city in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, which borders Russia’s far east, reported that several objects appeared to have fallen from the sky on Friday, the Xinhua news agency said.
After analysis, experts have concluded they were “parts from a carrier rocket or a satellite”, Xinhua said Sunday, citing the China National Space Administration.
Authorities were communicating on the issue “with relevant parties”, it added.
The report came after Russia’s space officials said the Proton rocket’s control engine failed on Friday just over nine minutes following blast-off from the Baikonur space centre Moscow leases in Kazakhstan – the latest blow to the country’s once-proud space industry.
State television showed the carrier and its Express-AM4P satellite burning up in the upper layers of the atmosphere.
The US$205 million satellite, built by Airbus Group’s Astrium corporation, was meant to provide internet access to far-flung Russian regions with poor access to communication.
Russian space officials said the rocket’s control engine failed 545 seconds after it took off at 1.42am Moscow time. Parts of the satellite fell into the Pacific Ocean or were scattered over Siberia and Russia’s far east. No casualties or other damage were reported.
Russia’s Roscosmos federal space agency said it had formed a special commission “to analyse the telemetric data and discover the reasons for the emergency situation”.
It was the first major accident involving a Proton-M rocket since last July, when three navigation satellites worth about US$200 million were lost when the engines failed.
That accident strained relations between Kazakhstan and Russia, which are close political and trade allies, and Kazakhstan imposed a temporary ban on all Proton launches from its territory.
Moscow’s Rossiya-24 television said all launches had been suspended from Kazakhstan after the failed launch.
Russia sacked its previous Roscosmos chief Vladimir Popovkin last October after less than two years on the job because of a string of failed launches and other embarrassing incidents to the country’s underfunded but fiercely proud space industry.
New Roscosmos head Oleg Ostapenko has been charged by President Vladimir Putin to overhaul the entire sector with billions of dollars in extra state funding.
With additional reporting from Reuters in Almaty