Speculations had risen to concerns for a few days: a Chinese 18-ton rocket, which had become uncontrollable, was due to return to earth this weekend without knowing precisely where.
A large segment of the craft finally disintegrated this Sunday over the Indian Ocean.
"According to the monitoring and analysis, at 10:24 a.m. (local time) on May 9, 2021, the first stage of the Long-March 5B carrier rocket entered the atmosphere," the Chinese Bureau of Space Engineering said. a press release, providing the coordinates of a point in the Indian Ocean near the Maldives.
The arrival point of the segment corresponds to the forecasts of some experts, who point out that there is always a good chance of falling into the sea since the planet is 70% covered with water.
But an uncontrolled entry of an object of this size raised concerns about damage and possible casualties, despite the low statistical probability.
More chances of falling at sea
"The probability of causing damage to air activities or (people, buildings and activities) on the ground is extremely low," Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said last week. US Defense Minister Lloyd Austin assured this week that his country had no intention of destroying the rocket. He hinted, however, that its launch was not planned with enough care by China.
Entering the atmosphere gives off immense heat and causes friction, segments can then burn and disintegrate.
However, the larger ones, like the Long March-5B, may not be completely destroyed.
Their debris can then land on the surface of the planet and cause damage and casualties, even if this risk is low.
In 2020, debris from another Longue-Marche rocket crashed into villages in Côte d'Ivoire, causing damage, but no injuries.
Towards a new rocket design?
The uncertainty and risks of such a comeback have prompted accusations that Beijing has acted irresponsibly.
To prevent such scenarios from happening again, experts have recommended a redesign of the Long March-5B rocket - which lacks the ability to control its descent from orbit.
"Entry (into the atmosphere) over the ocean has always been statistically the most likely," tweeted Jonathan McDowell, a Harvard-based astronomer.
And to stress: "It seems that China has won its bet (unless we have news of debris in the Maldives).
But it was still reckless.
China judges probability of damage on Earth linked to rocket dropping out of control "extremely low"
Part of a Chinese rocket will fall back to Earth ... but we don't know where