Chinese officials say rocket debris landed in the Indian Ocean
Debris from the Chinese Long March 5B rocket landed in the Indian Ocean early Sunday morning local time, authorities say.
The rocket fragments landed at 2.65 degrees north latitude, 72.47 degrees east longitude, right over the Maldives, at 2:24 a.m. local time, according to the China National Space Administration. The debris descended at a speed of 18,000 miles per hour, leaving no known injuries. It was not immediately clear how many pieces of debris were destroyed and recovered at the scene.
“An ocean reentry was always statistically the most likely. It appears China won its gamble (unless we get news of debris in the Maldives),” astronomer Jonathan McDowell said after the debris apparently landed. “But it was still reckless.”
The debris, which is the core stage of the Long March 5B rocket, entered Earth’s orbit after authorities began sending parts to construct China’s space station, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2022. China is expecting 10 more launches to carry additional parts of the space station, according to the Guardian.
Previous reports pinpointed possible debris landing locations in New York, Madrid, and Beijing in the Northern Hemisphere and southern Chile and Wellington, New Zealand, in the Southern Hemisphere. Forecasts about where exactly the fragments would land were vague because the debris was orbiting the Earth roughly every 90 minutes.
The expected fall of the 22.5-metric-ton piece of space debris led some to express concern about potential damages.
“I think, by current standards, it’s unacceptable to let it reenter uncontrolled,” McDowell said. “Since 1990, nothing over 10 tons has been deliberately left in orbit to reenter uncontrolled.”
Despite the concerns, the Defense Department vowed on Wednesday not to shoot down and break up the 46,000-pound debris.
“There are too many factors to take into account this early, such as the atmospheric conditions and the exact angle of the object as it enters the atmosphere,” a Space Command spokesperson said.
Most debris will burn on reentry and is highly unlikely to cause any harm, China’s foreign ministry said on Friday.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined to commit to the United States seeking compensation from China if the debris made contact with inhabited land, but she did encourage international partners of the U.S. to promote “responsible space behaviors.”