China’s huge rocket that fell from space highlights the debris risk of uncontrolled reentries.

Debris from a rocket launched by China crashed back to Earth on Sunday, landing in the Indian Ocean, according to China’s space agency, after days of speculation over where it could end up and when.

Parts of the Long March 5B rocket re-entered the atmosphere at 10:24 a.m. Beijing time (10:24 p.m. ET), the China Manned Space Agency said in an English-language statement on its website.

The coordinates put the point of impact in the Indian Ocean somewhere above the Maldives archipelago and south of India. Most of the debris was burned up in the atmosphere, it said.

The 98-foot-long, 20-ton rocket, which launched April 29 carrying the main module of the country’s new space station, was on the first of 11 expected missions to complete the project.


U.S. Space Command also confirmed that the rocket re-entered over the Arabian Peninsula at about 10:15 p.m. ET; it said in a statement that it was unknown whether the debris struck land or water.

“An ocean reentry was always statistically the most likely,” Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who tracked the tumbling rocket part, said in a tweet. “It appears China won its gamble. … But it was still reckless.”

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson accused China in a statement of “failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris.”

That meant the empty rocket body entered an elliptical orbit around Earth, where it began being dragged toward an uncontrolled re-entry, the corporation said.


Experts said the re-entry of the rocket debris this weekend is part of a bigger problem that is only going to get worse as countries launch more rockets that could cause damage by crashing back to Earth or collide and create clouds of space debris that could imperil other satellites or astronauts.China has been closely tracking its trajectory and issued statements on the re-entry situation in advance,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said.

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