Expert Says Rocket Could Have Come Down Anywhere From Portugal To U.S.

BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — A rocket re-entry expert said the Chinese rocket booster that came down last night could have splashed down anywhere in a 5,000 mile stretch of the planet, and ended up crashing somewhere completely different.

Ted Muelhaupt is the Principal Director of Aerospace Corporation's Center for Orbital and Re-entry Studies. He said space debris like the booster on the Chinese Long March-5B Y2 moves so fast that there's only a tiny window of time for trackers to estimate where the debris is coming down.

"It's moving 7 kilometers a second, it's moving really fast..." he said. That's about 15,500 miles per hour. The speed leaves the calculations with a huge margin of error, around 20%. The experts only had about 30 minutes to track where the booster would come down.

Muelhaupt said his organization had first estimated the booster would come down near the East Coast of the U.S., then near the west coast of Portugal, and then near Central America. In the end, it came down "around half an orbit early," according to Muelhaupt — near the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, according to the Chinese government. It came down at around 10:15 Eastern Time last night according to U.S. Space Command.

"They got lucky," he said. "The track that it was on did indeed take it over populated areas." He said the booster is the second largest object to come down uncontrolled in the last few decades.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson took the Chinese government to task on Saturday, saying China was "failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris."

WBZ's Shari Small (@ShariSmallNews) has more:

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(Photo: Getty Images)

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