The Philippine Space Agency (PhilSA) warned aircraft, ships, and other vessels on Monday to take precautionary measures against possible falling debris from the Chinese rocket Long March 5B if around the area of Bajo de Masinloc and Busuanga town in Palawan.

Based on the notice to airmen (NOTAM) issued by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) to the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) Drop Zone 1 is approximately 72 kilometers from Bajo de Masinloc located in the West Philippine Sea, and Drop Zone 2 is 39 kilometers from Busuanga municipality.

Parts of the rocket designed to disintegrate from the Long March 5B deployed from the Wenchang Space Launch Site on Hainan Island on October 31 may fall into these drop zones, according to PhilSA.

“Anticipated to fall within these areas are the ‘expected unburned debris,’ or parts of the rocket designed to be discarded as the rocket enters outer space,” it said.

“These components get separated from the rocket minutes after the launch and are designed to shed over bodies of water to minimize the hazard of falling in populated areas. The booster stages are expected to fall on drop zone 1, while the rocket fairing is expected to fall on drop zone 2,” the country’s space agency added.

According to reports, Long March 5B is transporting the Mengtian laboratory module for the Tiangong space station, a research facility that China is constructing in space.

PhilSA said it issued an advisory to all relevant government agencies on the estimated drop zones, and proposed the issuance of appropriate warnings on air and marine access.

“While debris from Long March 5B is unlikely to fall on land features or inhabited areas in the Philippine territory, falling debris still poses a considerable risk to ships, aircraft, fishing boats, and other vessels that will pass through the drop zones,” it said.

Actual drop zones may also vary due to factors such as the Earth’s rotation, weather, and climate. There is also a chance that the debris will float around the area and wash up on nearby coasts.

Furthermore, the possibility of the rocket’s upper stages returning from outer space making an uncontrolled re-entry into the atmosphere cannot be ruled out at this time.

PhilSA reiterates its earlier public advisory to immediately inform local authorities if suspected debris is sighted. PhilSA also cautions against retrieving or coming in close contact with these materials that may contain remnants of toxic substances such as rocket fuel.

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