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Chinese Rocket Safely Re-Enters Earth's Atmosphere Over Indian Ocean

By VOA News May 09, 2021

The remnants from an out-of-control Chinese rocket have safely reentered Earth's atmosphere over the Indian Ocean, according to Chinese state media.

The bulk of the rocket was destroyed once it reentered Earth's atmosphere. Space experts were unsure about where or when the debris would land and what would happen upon landing. There was speculation that the debris could land on the ground, potentially harming humans and the environment. Aerospace Corp. and Space-Track.org followed the rocket's descent.

Debris from the rocket landed in the Indian Ocean near the Maldives after reentering the atmosphere at approximately 2:30 a.m., Universal Time, Chinese state media reported.

Space-Track.org had estimated Saturday evening that the rocket would reenter the atmosphere over the North Atlantic at 2:04 a.m. Universal Time, give or take one hour. Aerospace Corp, put it at 3:02, give or take two hours.

The Aerospace Corp. is a nonprofit corporation that operates a federally funded research and development center committed to space enterprise, according to its website. Space-Track.org says it provides critical space situational awareness data for a worldwide space community.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Friday that the rocket is unlikely to cause damage.

Wang told reporters in Beijing that the rocket will mostly burn up on reentry and "the probability of this process causing harm on the ground is extremely low."

He said China was closely following the rocket's path toward Earth and will release any information about it in a "timely manner."

The Long March 5B rocket was launched April 29 from Hainan Island. It was carrying a module for a planned Chinese space station. After the unmanned Tianhe module separated from the rocket, the nearly 21,000-kilogram rocket should have followed a planned reentry trajectory into the ocean. Because that did not happen as planned, the rocket had an uncontrolled reentry, and no one knew precisely where the debris would land.

"U.S. Space Command is aware of and tracking the location of the Chinese Long March 5B in space, but its exact entry point into the Earth's atmosphere cannot be pinpointed until within hours of its reentry," Lieutenant Colonel Angela Webb, of U.S. Space Command Public Affairs, told CBS News.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said that "this rocket debris" is "almost the body of the rocket, as I understand it, almost intact, coming down, and we think Space Command believes, somewhere around the 8th of May."

In May 2020, debris from another Long March 5B rocket fell on parts of Ivory Coast, causing damage to some buildings.

Harvard-based astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell told Reuters that the debris could fall as far north as New York or as far south as Wellington, New Zealand.

Speaking with reporters Thursday, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the United States had no plans to try to shoot down the rocket.

"We have the capability to do a lot of things, but we don't have a plan to shoot it down as we speak," Austin said.

"We're hopeful that it will land in a place where it won't harm anyone. Hopefully in the ocean, or someplace like that," he added.

The launch of the Tianhe module is the first of 11 planned missions to build the Chinese space station.

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