Debris from a rocket launched by China crashed back to Earth on Sunday, landing in the Indian Ocean, according to Chinese state media.Parts of the Long March 5B rocket re-entered the atmosphere at 10:24 a.m. Beijing time, Chinese state media cited the China Manned Space Engineering Office as saying.
The coordinates put the point of impact in the ocean somewhere southwest of India and Sri Lanka. Most of the debris was burnt up in the atmosphere, it said.
The 98-foot-long, 20-ton section rocket launched on April 29 carried part of the country’s new space station, and was the first of the expected 11 missions necessary to complete the project.
It’s common for parts of rockets to fall back to Earth, but this piece caused concern because its lack of control meant that experts weren’t sure where on the planet it would strike.
There was a tiny chance the debris could have hit New York, Los Angeles, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro, the Nigerian capital of Abuja or Beijing.
Usually, discarded rocket stages don’t reach orbit and instead crash down to earth, often into water.
But that didn’t happen this time. Instead, the first stage of the Long March 5B rocket reached orbital velocity rather than falling downrange, according to the California-based Aerospace Corporation.
That meant that the empty rocket body entered an elliptical orbit around Earth where it began being dragged toward an uncontrolled re-entry, the corporation added.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Friday that the rocket would burn up on re-entry calling its descent “common international practice.”
A year ago, another Chinese rocket piece passed over New York and Los Angeles before crashing into Ivory Coast, in West Africa, where it damaged buildings but caused no reported injuries.
Experts say the re-entry of the rocket debris this weekend is part of a bigger problem that’s only going to get worse, as countries launch more rockets that could either cause damage by crashing back to Earth — or collide and create a cloud of space debris that could imperil other satellites or astronauts.
Alexander Smith and Reuters contributed.