Debris from Chinese rocket falls into Indian Ocean

Debris from a Chinese rocket fell into the Indian Ocean near the Maldives early Sunday morning, China’s space administration announced.

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The agency said most of the debris had burned up on re-entry, but it did not specify whether what remained had landed in the ocean or on one of the Maldives’s 1,192 islands, The New York Times reported.

The Long March 5B carrier rocket had an estimated landing area of 72.47°E longitude and 2.65°N latitude, just west of the Maldives, China’s National Space Agency said in a post on WeChat.

There were no immediate reports of damage from falling debris, The Washington Post reported.

The remnant of the rocket, which weighed 22 tons and is approximately 100 feet in length, was part of China’s first module for its Tianhe space station. The unmanned rocket, named the “Heavenly Harmony,” was launched into low-Earth orbit one week ago from Wenchang, China, The Guardian reported.

The U.S. Space Command’s Space Track Project said in a tweet: “Everyone else following the #LongMarch5B re-entry can relax. The rocket is down.”

In a statement, NASA Administrator Sen. Bill Nelson said China is “failing to meet responsible standards” regarding space debris.

“Spacefaring nations must minimize the risks to people and property on Earth of re-entries of space objects and maximize transparency regarding those operations,” Nelson said. “It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris.

“It is critical that China and all spacefaring nations and commercial entities act responsibly and transparently in space to ensure the safety, stability, security, and long-term sustainability of outer space activities.”

The U.S. Space Command had been tracking the Chinese rocket booster, which was tumbling uncontrollably through space at nearly 18,000 mph, The Washington Post reported.

Last year, the booster from the first launch of a Long March 5B rocket made an uncontrolled re-entry, with some debris hitting a village in Ivory Coast, the Times reported.

Earlier Saturday, the Aerospace Corporation, a nonprofit largely financed by the federal government, predicted re-entry would occur on Saturday at 11:02 p.m. EDT, according to the newspaper.

The rocket re-entered the atmosphere at about 10:30 p.m. EDT, the Post reported.

Previously, the European Space Agency predicted a “risk zone” that encompasses “any portion of Earth’s surface between about 41.5N and 41.5S latitude,” CNN reported. Those coordinates covered a wide swath of the Earth, including North America south of New York, South America, all of Africa and Australia, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain. Areas in Asia south of Japan were also possible locales for the space debris.

There are no recorded instances of a human being killed by space debris reentering the atmosphere, the Post reported. In 1961, a cow in Cuba was killed, according to Brown University’s Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World.

In March, an out-of-control SpaceX rocket stage re-entered Earth’s atmosphere near Seattle, the Times reported. Pieces of the rocket landed on a farmer’s property, the newspaper reported.

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