Long March 5B: China rocket debris likely plunged into the Indian Ocean near the Maldives, says China's space agency

However, most of the giant Long March 5B rocket burned on re-entry into the atmosphere, the China Manned Space Engineering Office said in a post on WeChat.

It was unclear whether any debris had landed on the atoll nation.

US Space Command said the Long March 5B re-entered Earth over the Arabian Peninsula.

The rocket, which is about 30 meters high and weighs nearly 40,000 pounds, launched a piece of a new Chinese space station into orbit on April 29. After its fuel was exhausted, the rocket was thrown uncontrollably through space until the Earth’s gravity pulled it back to the ground.

In general, the international space community tries to avoid such scenarios. Most rockets used to launch satellites and other objects into space perform controlled re-entrances aimed at the ocean or are in so-called “graveyard” orbits that keep them in space for decades or centuries. But the Long March rocket is designed to “exit those large stages in low orbit,” said Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at Harvard University’s Astrophysics Center.

In this case, it was impossible to know exactly when or where the booster was going to land.

The European Space Agency had predicted a “risk zone” that encompassed “every part of the earth’s surface between about 41.5 N and 41.5 S latitude” – which encompassed practically all of America south of New York, all of Africa and Australia, and parts of Asia south of Japan and Europe Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece.

The threat to populated land areas was not negligible, but luckily the vast majority of the earth’s surface is consumed by oceans, so the chances of avoiding a catastrophic inlet were slim.

The rocket is one of the largest objects in the recent past to hit Earth after falling from orbit after part of a Chinese space laboratory broke over the Pacific in 2018 and an 18-metric re-entry occurred in 2020. Ton Long March 5B missile.

Despite recent efforts to better regulate and mitigate space debris, Earth’s orbit is littered with hundreds of thousands of uncontrolled debris, most of which are less than four inches.

Objects are constantly falling out of orbit, although most of the parts in the earth’s atmosphere burn up before they have any impact on the surface. But parts of larger objects, like the Long March missile in this case, can survive re-entry and threaten structures and people on the ground.

“Norms were set,” said McDowell.

“There is no international law or rule – nothing specific – but the practice in countries around the world has been, ‘Yes, for the bigger missiles we don’t leave our rubbish in orbit like that.'”