China's Out-of-Control Rocket Just Plunged Back to Earth

Seems like nothing and nobody is hurt, the debris is yet to show up though.
Utku Kucukduner

What remains of China's largest rocket, the Long March 5B, which was launched last week, has reentered the atmosphere over the Indian Ocean, west of Maldives at around 10:24 PM ET Saturday (02:24 GMT Sunday). The announcement came from the China Manned Space Engineering Office on a WeChat post, per CNN — [1] see below for a disclaimer.

Additionally, Reuters also reported that the impact point was somewhere west of the Maldives and cites Chinese state media as the source — 72.47 degrees east and 2.65 degrees north.

China's Out-of-Control Rocket Just Plunged Back to Earth
Approximate point of reentry, marked in gray. Source: Google Maps

The Foreign Ministry of China previously announced on Friday that most of the payload will burn upon entry into the atmosphere and that it is highly unlikely to cause any harm. The unstable rocket previously passed over several major cities en route, including New York, Madrid, Rome, and Beijing, among several others.  

EU Space Surveillance and Tracking previously reported that statistically, an impact over populated areas is a low probability but that because the rocket was in an uncontrolled route there was a portion of uncertainty until right before the descent unto Earth. 

What happened before?

Consisting of one core stage and four boosters, the Long March 5B took flight from Hainan Island in China on April 29. It's a part of an ambitious project to establish a permanent space station just like the ISS — dubbed Tianhe Core Module. The 22.5-tonne payload was supposed to be the first module of China's modular space station. There are 10 more missions in works to bring the station to completion.

This instance of the Long March 5B was the second deployment of the 5B variant since its maiden flight in May last year.

Within China, authorities in Shiyan, Hubei issued a potential debris warning and urged people to be ready for evacuation in the event of debris fallout around the time of its launch.

Unusual things happened from the start

The Aerospace Corporation noted that the Long March 5B has been an unusual mission as its first stage "reached orbital velocity instead of falling down range as is common practice." 

Prior to impact, experts estimated its dry mass on impact to be between 18 to 22 tonnes.

Previous crash landings

In 2018, China's first space station — dubbed Tiangong-1 also plunged into a crashing fate after spending roughly 7 years in orbit. It crashed into the South Pacific without causing any damage. Later on, in 2019, Tiangong-2 was also deorbited into the Pacific in a controlled fashion. NYT reported that this time around, the booster stage itself is twice as massive as the first two Tiangong Spac Stations. 

And if you have a good memory or are good with space trivia, you might recall how the U.S. struggled with its first attempt at retrieving its first space station in a controlled manner. Skylab, which was in operation between 1973 and 1974 plunged back to Earth in 1979. NASA attempted to control the landing to the best of their capabilities. But breaking up over the Indian Ocean, parts of Skylab made their way onto Western Australia (which is a mostly uninhabited place apart from coastal areas). President Carter then sent a letter of apology.