Tons of Chinese Rocket Debris Have Crashed into the Indian Ocean

The 25-ton core stage of a Long March 5B rocket “reentered Earth’s atmosphere over the Indian Ocean this afternoon,” reports Space.com, citing an announcement on Twitter from the U.S. Space Command.

Mission managers didn’t screw anything up; this end-of-life scenario is built into the Long March 5B’s design, to the consternation of exploration advocates and much of the broader spaceflight community. This disposal strategy is reckless, critics say, given that the big rocket doesn’t burn up completely upon reentry.

Indeed, 5.5 tons to 9.9 tons (5 to 9 metric tons) of the Long March 5B likely survived all the way to the ground today, experts with The Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Orbital Reentry and Debris Studies have estimated. And it’s possible that falling rocket chunks caused some injuries or infrastructure damage today, given where the Long March 5B reentered. One observer appeared to capture the rocket’s breakup from Kuching, in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, for example, posting video of the dramatic event on Twitter. “The video from Kuching implies it was high in the atmosphere at that time — any debris would land hundreds of km further along track, near Sibu, Bintulu or even Brunei,” astrophysicist and satellite tracker Jonathan McDowell, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said via Twitter today. It’s “unlikely but not impossible” that one or more chunks hit a population center, he added in another tweet….

“What really should have happened is, there should have been some fuel left on board for this to be a controlled reentry,” Darren McKnight, a senior technical fellow at the California-based tracking company LeoLabs, said Thursday (July 28) during a Long March 5B reentry discussion that The Aerospace Corporation livestreamed on Twitter. “That would be the responsible thing to do….”

This was the third uncontrolled fall for a Long March 5B core stage to date.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson also released a critical statement today pointing out that China “did not share specific trajectory information as their Long March 5B rocket fell back to Earth.”

All spacefaring nations should follow established best practices, and do their part to share this type of information in advance to allow reliable predictions of potential debris impact risk, especially for heavy-lift vehicles, like the Long March 5B, which carry a significant risk of loss of life and property.

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Chinese-Made Huawei Equipment Could Disrupt US Nuclear Arsenal Communications, FBI Determines

There’s been “a dramatic escalation of Chinese espionage on US soil over the past decade,” sources in the U.S. counterintelligence community have told CNN this weekend.

But some dramatic new examples have been revealed. For example, in 2017 China’s government offered to build a $100 million pavilion in Washington D.C. with an ornate 70-foot pagoda. U.S. counterintelligence officials realized its location — two miles from the U.S. Capitol — appeared “strategically placed on one of the highest points in Washington DC…a perfect spot for signals intelligence collection.”
Also alarming was that Chinese officials wanted to build the pagoda with materials shipped to the US in diplomatic pouches, which US Customs officials are barred from examining, the sources said. Federal officials quietly killed the project before construction was underway…

Since at least 2017, federal officials have investigated Chinese land purchases near critical infrastructure, shut down a high-profile regional consulate believed by the US government to be a hotbed of Chinese spies and stonewalled what they saw as clear efforts to plant listening devices near sensitive military and government facilities.
Among the most alarming things the FBI uncovered pertains to Chinese-made Huawei equipment atop cell towers near US military bases in the rural Midwest. According to multiple sources familiar with the matter, the FBI determined the equipment was capable of capturing and disrupting highly restricted Defense Department communications, including those used by US Strategic Command, which oversees the country’s nuclear weapons…. It’s unclear if the intelligence community determined whether any data was actually intercepted and sent back to Beijing from these towers. Sources familiar with the issue say that from a technical standpoint, it’s incredibly difficult to prove a given package of data was stolen and sent overseas.

The Chinese government strongly denies any efforts to spy on the US…. But multiple sources familiar with the investigation tell CNN that there’s no question the Huawei equipment has the ability to intercept not only commercial cell traffic but also the highly restricted airwaves used by the military and disrupt critical US Strategic Command communications, giving the Chinese government a potential window into America’s nuclear arsenal…. As Huawei equipment began to proliferate near US military bases, federal investigators started taking notice, sources familiar with the matter told CNN. Of particular concern was that Huawei was routinely selling cheap equipment to rural providers in cases that appeared to be unprofitable for Huawei — but which placed its equipment near military assets.

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Some Beijing Travelers Asked To Wear COVID Monitoring Bracelets

Some Beijing residents returning from domestic travel were asked by local authorities to wear COVID-19 monitoring bracelets, prompting widespread criticism on Chinese social media by users concerned about excessive government surveillance. Reuters reports: According to posts published on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning on microblogging platform Weibo, some Beijing residents returning to the capital were asked by their neighborhood committees to wear an electronic bracelet throughout the mandatory home quarantine period. Chinese cities require those arriving from parts of China where COVID cases were found to quarantine. Authorities fit doors with movement sensors to monitor their movements but until now have not widely discussed the use of electronic bracelets.

The bracelets monitor users’ temperature and upload the data onto a phone app they had to download, the posts said. “This bracelet can connect to the Internet, it can definitely record my whereabouts, it is basically the same as electronic fetters and handcuffs, I won’t wear this,” Weibo user Dahongmao wrote on Wednesday evening, declining to comment further when contacted by Reuters. This post and others that shared pictures of the bracelets were removed by Thursday afternoon, as well as a related hashtag that had garnered over 30 million views, generating an animated discussion on the platform.

A community worker at Tiantongyuan, Beijing’s northern suburb, confirmed to state-backed news outlet Eastday that the measure was in effect in the neighbourhood, though she called the practice “excessive.” A Weibo post and a video published on the official account of Eastday.com was removed by Thursday afternoon. Weibo user Dahongmao wrote on Thursday afternoon his neighbourhood committee had already collected the bracelets, telling him that “there were too many complaints.”

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Leaked Audio From 80 Internal TikTok Meetings Shows That US User Data Has Been Repeatedly Accessed From China

Speaking of TikTok moving US users’ data to Oracle, a new report says that ByteDance staff in China accessed US TikTok users’ data between September 2021 and January 2022. From the report: For years, TikTok has responded to data privacy concerns by promising that information gathered about users in the United States is stored in the United States, rather than China, where ByteDance, the video platform’s parent company, is located. But according to leaked audio from more than 80 internal TikTok meetings, China-based employees of ByteDance have repeatedly accessed nonpublic data about US TikTok users — exactly the type of behavior that inspired former president Donald Trump to threaten to ban the app in the United States.

The recordings, which were reviewed by BuzzFeed News, contain 14 statements from nine different TikTok employees indicating that engineers in China had access to US data between September 2021 and January 2022, at the very least. Despite a TikTok executive’s sworn testimony in an October 2021 Senate hearing that a “world-renowned, US-based security team” decides who gets access to this data, nine statements by eight different employees describe situations where US employees had to turn to their colleagues in China to determine how US user data was flowing. US staff did not have permission or knowledge of how to access the data on their own, according to the tapes.

“Everything is seen in China,” said a member of TikTok’s Trust and Safety department in a September 2021 meeting. In another September meeting, a director referred to one Beijing-based engineer as a “Master Admin” who “has access to everything.” (While many employees introduced themselves by name and title in the recordings, BuzzFeed News is not naming anyone to protect their privacy.) The recordings range from small-group meetings with company leaders and consultants to policy all-hands presentations and are corroborated by screenshots and other documents, providing a vast amount of evidence to corroborate prior reports of China-based employees accessing US user data.

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