April 18, 2024

Californians received a shock in the early hours of Tuesday morning when golden streaks from an apparent explosion appeared over Los Angeles.

Locals had believed it was the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that launched six hours prior or a giant meteor that combusted as it shot through Earth’s atmosphere.

Aerospace researchers have determined that the fiery object was the orbital object of China‘s Shenzhou-15 rocket that launched in 2022.

The China-owned space junk comes just months after the nation infiltrated the US by flying a spy balloon over an Air Force base in Montana.

A piece from the Shenzhou-15 rocket (pictured) exploded over California on Tuesday morning

The 3,300-pound orbital module, a secondary piece of the rocket, was not designed to safely reenter Earth’s atmosphere and was set to circle our planet with the tons of other space junk. 

Witnesses of the explosion posted videos on social media, showing the object streaking across the sky at around 1:40 a.m. PT, and questioned what it was.

One person wrote on X: ‘I’m guessing this is debris or something else related to the SpaceX launch from earlier this evening,’ while another simply asked: ‘Dude, what was that?’

As news surfaced that it was a piece from a Chinese-owned rocket, comments about the country’s involvement began rolling in.

‘China out there just doing whatever they want.’ wrote one person on X.

Another person commented: ‘Someone in China is getting fired today. Not because it [the rocket] came down near LA, but because it missed.’

Heather Golden, a spokesperson for the Aerospace Corporation – a federally funded space research and development center – told Dailymail.com that despite speculations that the explosion belonged to SpaceX, an analysis revealed it wasn’t a US-owned rocket.

Instead, Golden said: ‘Our analysis suggests that the object seen re-entering over Los Angeles this morning was the orbital module from the November 2022 Chinese Shenzhou-15 launch to their space station.’

The Shenzhou-15 rocket had three astronauts onboard when it lifted off from Mongolia in November 2022

The Shenzhou-15 rocket had three astronauts onboard when it lifted off from Mongolia in November 2022

The 17,857-pound Shenzhou-15 rocket is made up of multiple modules including the reentry module that carries the astronauts safely back to Earth and the service part that holds hardware like solar panels and life support needed for the mission. 

Shenzhou-15’s third section, the orbital module, is a habitation space for astronauts and hosts scientific instruments, crew-operated equipment and other kinds of payload needed for the mission.

Golden said ‘reentries can often look like shooting stars (meteors) with a bright central body followed by a long, dazzling tail and often break into numerous fragments.’

She added that if the object ‘appears to be a tight cluster of bright points all moving in the same direction at similar speeds, and all leaving streaks behind them, then it is very probably a reentry breakup.’

In November 2022, China’s Shenzhou-15 rocket launched with three astronauts on board from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia to the Tiangong Space Station to finish the construction of the nation’s orbital outpost.

Shenzhou-15’s reentry module landed safely in June of last year and according to the Aerospace Corporation’s tracking site, it predicted the Shenzhou-15 orbital module’s reentry time would be at 1:33 a.m. GMT on Tuesday.

There have not yet been reports that debris from the orbital module crashed on land and some might have landed in the Pacific Ocean, according to University of Southern California space relations expert Madhu Thangavelu.

He told BBC that he’s just ‘hoping all of it burnt out in upper atmosphere.’ 

This isn’t the first time one of China’s rockets has gone rogue.

The sight of a China-owned rocket in American airspace may have triggered memories of the spy balloon that appeared in the Midwest in 2023.

The balloon had drifted east and entered US airspace over Alaska on January 28 and was tracked as it flew over Malmstrom Air Force base in Montana, where nuclear assets are stored.

Intelligence officials revealed in December that the balloon used an American internet service provider to communicate. 

The report stated that the balloon was connected to a US-based company and communicating with China about its navigation.

It further stated that the connection ‘allowed the balloon to send burst transmissions or high-bandwidth collections of data over short periods of time’ to its home base in China.