After an unregulated descent that was tracked around the world over the past week, the remnants of China’s rogue Long March 5B rocket reportedly landed in the Indian Ocean on Sunday — late Saturday night Eastern U.S. time.
The landing was announced by Reuters, citing Chinese government information.
Furthermore, the United States Space Command retweeted a tweet from Space-Track.org suggesting that the rocket debris had landed.
The 18th Space Control Squadron of the United States Space Force identified potential landing sites in Costa Rica, Haiti, Australia, Spain, Italy, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and New Zealand between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET on Saturday.
The approaching rocket debris elicited a range of emotions, from worry to concern to indifference, with a few jokes thrown in for good measure.
Late Saturday, comedians the Hodge Twins joked, “We name it the Chinese rocket because it comes from CHINA.”
On Friday, astronomer Dr. Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics told Fox News that space junk watchers expected the core to come down sometime Saturday or Sunday, but they couldn’t say when or where because atmospheric factors, such as weather, might have a major effect on the rocket’s course.
“We don’t know where and we don’t know when,” he wrote in an email. “You’re 18,000 miles wrong in WHERE if you’re an hour off in WHEN.”
That’s because the 23-ton rocket core, which is about 100 miles long and 15 feet high, was whizzing around the earth at 18,000 mph, creeping closer to the surface until reentering the atmosphere and building friction.
According to Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, most of the rocket’s parts should burn up, and “the risk of damage to aviation or ground facilities” is “extremely poor.”
Experts agreed on that point, but said China’s launch practices were at best “irresponsible.”
All other space-capable countries maintain close control over their first-stage rockets, which either splash down safely into the ocean before entering orbit or return to the surface in a controlled descent for reuse, as SpaceX does.
Another Long March 5B rocket stage reentered the atmosphere almost exactly a year ago, barely missing New York City before crashing into a West African village. Although no one was hurt, China plans to launch many more of the rockets as it builds its new Tianhe space station, and each mission carries the risk of failure until the country’s safety measures are improved.