Countries released a sigh of relief as debris from Chinese rocket LongMarch5B landed in the Indian Ocean on Sunday morning, with most of its remains destroyed upon re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere.
With four boosters, a core stage and a crewless Tianhe module which contained supplies for a Chinese space agency, LongMarch5B took off into space from China's Hainan Island on 29 April.
The China Manned Space Engineering Office recorded the coordinates of the fall at longitude 72.47 degrees east and latitude 2.65 degrees north, in the ocean somewhere southwest of India and Sri Lanka. China had announced earlier that the trajectory of the 18-ton rocket was headed towards somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea.
Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Astrophysics Centre at Harvard University, said on Sunday that China won its gamble as an ocean re-entry was statistically most likely. "To my knowledge, the upper stage of this rocket has been deactivated, which means that most of its parts will burn up upon re-entry, making the likelihood of damage to aviation or ground facilities and activities extremely low," McDowell said.
The US space agency NASA criticised China for its negligence in letting the rocket out of orbit and the subsequent uncontrolled re-entry.
"Spacefaring nations must minimise the risks to people and property on Earth of re-entries of space objects and maximise transparency regarding those operations," said NASA chief Bill Nelson in a statement on Saturday. "It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris."
He added that it is critical for all spacefaring nations and commercial entities to act with responsibility and transparency in space to ensure the safety, stability, security and long-term sustainability of outer space activities.