The world’s greatest minds and space scientists couldn’t agree where the booster stage of China’s would fall from the sky – and in the end only the rocket knew for sure.
The remnants of China’s biggest space launch so far landed in the Indian Ocean, with the bulk of its components destroyed upon re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, according to Chinese state media.
Parts of the Long March 5B rocket re-entered the atmosphere at 12.24 pm AEST and landed at a location with the coordinates of longitude 72.47 degrees east and latitude 2.65 degrees north, the China Manned Space Engineering Office was quoted as saying.
The coordinates put the point of impact in the ocean somewhere southwest of India and Sri Lanka.
Most of the debris was burnt up in the atmosphere.
US and European space tracking agencies had been closely monitoring the rocket’s return but were unable to predict precisely where it would land – with sites near New Zealand and Australia among the favoured possibilities.
Space-Track, reporting data collected by US Space Command, estimated the debris would make reentry over the Mediterranean Basin.
Other educated guesses ranged from somewhere near Tahiti to the northern US.
Travelling at a speed of around 7.7 km per second, a difference of just one minute in the time of re-entry translated to hundreds of miles difference in the various estimates.
“This is difficult to predict and not an exact measurement,” Space-Track wrote on Twitter – and understatement if ever there was one.
It is one of the largest pieces of space debris to return to Earth, with experts estimating its ry mass to be around 18 to 22 tonnes.
The Long March 5B lifted off from China’s Hainan island on April 29 with the unmanned Tianhe module, which contains what will become living quarters on a permanent Chinese space station. The rocket is set to be followed by 10 more missions to complete the station.
Debris from Chinese rocket launches is not uncommon within China.
In late April, authorities in the city of Shiyan, Hubei Province, issued a notice to people in the surrounding county to prepare for evacuation as parts were expected to land in the area.