The almost 100-foot core of China’s Long March 5B rocket is likely to make an uncontrolled reentry at an unknown point in the coming days.
The spacecraft launched Thursday into low Earth orbit from Hainan’s Wenchang Center, ferrying the Tianhe module for the country’s first permanent space station.
However, this is not the first time one of China’s rockets made an uncontrolled descent.
Last May, debris from the same rocket rained down on at least two villages along Africa’s Ivory Coast. In that case, the rocket – which weighs more than 1.8 million pounds when fully fueled – was carrying an experimental crew capsule designed for potential future lunar missions.
The rocket reentered over the Atlantic Ocean at 11:33 a.m. ET on Monday, May 11, 2020.
Photos showed long metal rods that reportedly damaged several buildings in Ivory Coast, though no casualties were reported.
A local infrasound station also recorded what appeared to be rocket debris moving through the atmosphere at supersonic speeds and hitting the ground.
The Verge reported that locals heard sonic booms and saw flashes and falling debris at around the same time that the rocket would have passed overhead.
Newsweek reported that part of the rocket had fallen into the water near West Africa after spending a week in low Earth orbit.
At the time, the U.S. Air Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron said the rocket passed directly over major U.S. cities – including Los Angeles and New York City – on its way down.
It was the largest object to make an uncontrolled descent since the Soviet Union’s 43-ton Salyut-7 space station landed in Argentina in 1991.
The only debris larger than the Salyut-7 space station was NASA’s almost 100-ton Skylab, which fell on a small Australian town in 1979.
Notably, a nuclear-powered Soviet satellite that reentered the atmosphere over northern Canada in 1978 resulted in a $3,000,000 fine for its clean-up over the tundra.
Typically, rocket manufacturers account for falling rocket debris.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.