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Chinese Satellite: Re-Entry

Volume 569: debated on Tuesday 27 February 1996

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2.52 p.m.

What guidance has been given to local authorities on the possible landing in their areas in March of the satellite launched recently in China but now out of control.

My Lords, we have issued guidance to local authorities on four occasions about a Chinese satellite which was launched in October 1993 and which is expected to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere between the beginning of March and the end of April this year. In the highly unlikely event that it lands in the United Kingdom or in UK coastal waters, local authorities and the emergency services have been briefed on the correct course of action. I understand that the Chinese Government attempted to launch a further satellite on 15th February this year. It failed to reach orbit following an explosion shortly after the launch.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for her very full reply. Should the satellite land here, is it the intention of the Government to return it to China with a view to helping international research? Further, will bulletins he issued during the next few weeks on the erratic flight path of the satellite?

My Lords, there is absolutely no doubt that if the satellite landed on UK soil or, indeed, in UK waters we would have an obligation to return it to China and to do so as soon as possible. As regards its erratic flight path, I should point out that the missile is out of control and beyond anyone's control. However, we are tracking it and making predictions on a daily basis as to where and when it will land.

My Lords, is the report correct which states that local authorities in Scotland have been directed to cover the satellite, on arrival, with a tarpaulin to protect it from normal British weather? That would be a gesture to an inanimate object which, I believe, goes further than necessary in setting an example in human rights to the Chinese Government.

My Lords, I stressed that the satellite is out of control. Indeed, such will he its speed on re-entry that I do not believe there is any hope that re-entry may he delayed due to the weather. If the satellite should land here, it would be extremely hot. Even a tarpaulin would not, I think, protect it from the weather.