'Out of control' Chinese rocket lands in Indian Ocean
An out-of-control Chinese rocket plunged out of orbit Saturday night ET and reentered Earth's atmosphere, according to China's space agency.
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 in the Indian Ocean, China's National Space Agency said in a post on WeChat.
Most of the rocket was "destroyed" on reentry to the atmosphere, the space agency said.
The rocket, which is about 108 feet tall and weighs nearly 40,000 pounds, had launched a piece of a new Chinese space station into orbit on April 29. After its fuel was spent, the rocket had been left to hurtle through space uncontrolled until Earth's gravity dragged it back to the ground.
Generally, the international space community tries to avoid such scenarios. Most rockets used to lift satellites and other objects into space conduct more controlled reentries that aim for the ocean, or they're left in so-called "graveyard" orbits that keep them in space for decades or centuries. But the Long March rocket is designed in a way that "leaves these big stages in low orbit," said Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Astrophysics Center at Harvard University.
In this case, it was impossible to be certain exactly when or where the booster would land.
The European Space Agency had predicted a "risk zone" that encompassed "any portion of Earth's surface between about 41.5N and 41.5S latitude" — which included virtually all of the Americas south of New York, all of Africa and Australia, parts of Asia south of Japan and Europe's Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece.