A large metal cylinder that fell to the earth in northern Myanmar on Thursday is thought to be from a recent Chinese rocket launch. The nation’s state media published images of a 4.5 meter (15 ft) long metal cylinder which landed on the property of a mining company in Hpakank. A smaller piece of debris fell through the roof a nearby house, with Chinese writing. No one was injured.
The metal cylinder landed in the northern state of Kachin, and then bounced 50 meters across the mining compound, landing in a muddy, waterlogged area.
“Every local thought it was the explosion of heavy artillery,” said Ko Maung Myo, speaking to the Myanmar Times. “I think it was an engine because I found a diode and many copper wires at the tail of the body,” he said.”
Global New Light, the state-run newspaper, said authorities were still investigating, but that “The metal objects are assumed to be part of a satellite or the engine parts of a plane or missile.”
A Long March 11 rocket carrying an experimental satellite had launched from Jiuquan satellite launch center, on Wednesday, roughly 1,000 miles from Hpakank. There has been no confirmation from Beijing as to whether the object came from the satellite or the rocket, or any other Chinese operation.
Clemens Rumpf, a space debris researcher at Southampton University, said it was very possible that the debris came from China’s rocket.
“Myanmar is directly to the south of the launch site and this would put the country directly under the launch trajectory for that rocket. It is entirely plausible that the first or second stage of the rocket could have come down there,” said Rumpf. “In general, the first stage of any rocket does not make it to orbit and thus falls down somewhere downrange from the launch site.”
China’s space program has become increasingly active in recent years, though is still shrouded in layers of secrecy. In October, China launched 2 astronauts on a 30-day mission in an orbiting lab, the longest duration for a manned mission ever attempted by the program. China is also planning to land a lunar probe on the far side of the moon in 2018, as well as a manned mission to the moon by 2025. In September, the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope began operating in Guizhou province in southwestern China. A Mars rover mission is planned for 2020, alongside similar missions from NASA and the European Space Agency.