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China says rocket debris landed in Indian Ocean west of Maldives

ASIA
By Reuters | May 9th 2021
The coordinates put the point of impact in the ocean, west of the Maldives archipelago. [Reuters]

Remnants of China's biggest rocket landed in the Indian Ocean on Sunday, with the bulk of its components destroyed upon re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, according to Chinese state media, ending days of speculation over where the debris would hit.

Parts of the Long March 5B re-entered the atmosphere at 10:24 a.m. Beijing time (0224 GMT) and landed at a location with the coordinates of longitude 72.47 degrees east and latitude 2.65 degrees north, Chinese state media cited the China Manned Space Engineering Office as saying.

The coordinates put the point of impact in the ocean, west of the Maldives archipelago.

Most of the debris was burnt up in the atmosphere, the China Manned Space Engineering Office said.

Debris from the Long March 5B has had some people looking warily skyward since shortly after it blasted off from China's Hainan island on April 29.

The Long March launched last week was the second deployment of the 5B variant since its maiden flight in May 2020. Last year, pieces from the first Long March 5B fell on Ivory Coast, damaging several buildings. No injuries were reported.

With most of the Earth's surface covered by water, the odds of the populated area on land being hit had been low, and the likelihood of injuries even lower, according to experts.

But uncertainty over the rocket's orbital decay and China's failure to issue stronger reassurances in the run-up to the re-entry fueled anxiety.

During the rocket's flight, Harvard-based astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell told Reuters that the potential debris zone could have been as far north as New York, Madrid or Beijing, and as far south as southern Chile and Wellington, New Zealand.

Ever since large chunks of the NASA space station Skylab fell from orbit in July 1979 and landed in Australia, most countries have sought to avoid such uncontrolled re-entries through their spacecraft design, McDowell said.

"It makes the Chinese rocket designers look lazy that they didn't address this," said McDowell, a member of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

The Global Times, a Chinese tabloid published by the official People's Daily, dismissed as "Western hype" concerns that the rocket is "out of control" and could cause damage.

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