A Chinese rocket’s second stage, which launched three military surveillance satellites in June, broke up over Texas on Wednesday, according to sources who spoke with USNI News.
The four-ton component of the Chang Zheng 2D Long March rocket entered the atmosphere over Texas at 17,000 miles per hour, disintegrating upon reentry.
Although U.S. military officials have yet to find any debris from the rocket stage, the debris field could be several hundred miles long and miles wide.
The rocket stage was considered space junk in low Earth orbit before it made its unscheduled descent, according to North American Aerospace Defense Command satellite tracking data.
The stage was part of a mission that launched three military electronic signals surveillance satellites, which were intended to collect signals data from the South China Sea, according to astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
The Chang Zheng 2D rocket is 135 feet long and can carry up to 8,000 pounds of cargo into low Earth orbit, according to the Chinese space agency.
Chinese officials have not commented on the unplanned reentry.
The US Department of Defense has not issued a statement on the incident or responded to questions from USNI News.
However, the Pentagon spokesman has acknowledged the request for information.
U.S. officials are still determining whether any debris from the rocket stage has hit the ground.
China has been criticized in the past for space debris entering the atmosphere and posing a hazard to populated areas.
This recent incident follows the U.S. military’s destruction of a Chinese surveillance balloon that had been flying over the United States for more than a week.