Debris from Chinese rocket splashes back to Earth over Indian Ocean

·2 min read

Remnants of the Long March-5B Y2 rocket re-entered Earth's atmosphere over the Indian Ocean near the Maldives, officials in China announced Sunday morning Beijing time.

Details: Most of the rocket's debris burned up during the uncontrolled re-entry, the China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO) said in a social media post. NASA administrator Bill Nelson accused China's government in a statement Saturday of "failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris."

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"Spacefaring nations must minimize the risks to people and property on Earth of re-entries of space objects and maximize transparency regarding those operations."


  • Parts of the rocket's 100-foot core re-entered the atmosphere at 10.24a.m. Sunday Beijing time (10.24p.m. Saturday ET), landing at 72.47 degrees east longitude and 2.65 degrees north latitude, the CMSEO said.

For the record: The Pentagon said this week it was tracking the descent of the rocket that carried a Chinese Space Station module to orbit last month, but experts couldn't predict where it would land.

Between the lines: Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., tweeted: "An ocean reentry was always statistically the most likely.

  • "It appears China won its gamble (unless we get news of debris in the Maldives). But it was still reckless."

Of note: Axios' Miriam Kramer notes that China’s Tiangong-1 space station returned to Earth in an uncontrolled descent in 2018, burning up above the Pacific Ocean.

What to watch: We could see more uncontrolled rocket re-entries in the future as China launches further missions to its new space station, per the New York Times.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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