SEVERAL Spanish airports have closed their airspace because of an out-of-control 21-ton Chinese rocket plummeting to Earth that may smash a plane.
Spain scrambled its air force to track the rocket's re-entry following fears it could crash-land.
Spanish air traffic controllers said the country's airspace would be temporarily shut while officials try to pinpoint where the rocket will land.
"It will take some time for normality to return following the delays. For security reasons it must be done progressively, " authorities tweeted.
The measure is expected to last around 40 minutes, although local reports are pointing to the possibility places like Ibiza could be affected for up to three hours.
A spokesman for Catalonia’s Civil Protection Agency confirmed: "Due to the risk associated with the passage of the CZ-5B space object crossing Spanish airspace, flights have been completely restricted from 9.38am to 10.18am in Catalonia and other communities.
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"Airports and other organisations have already been informed."
Spanish air traffic controllers tweeted: "Eurocontrol has informed us about the non-controlled re-entry of a Chinese rocket into the Earth’s atmosphere.
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"Rate Zero has been established for certain parts of Spanish airspace and that could affect air traffic by way of delays and diversions."
Delays at Barcelona airport are expected to last all day Friday while flights between Balearics and the UK are believed to be the worst affected.
Canadian Astronomer Erika said the rocket should re-enter Earth on Friday and Spain is in its path.
She said on Twitter: "The uncertainty of where the large debris will ultimately land presents a level of risk to human safety and property damage that is well above commonly accepted thresholds.
"If your latitude is higher than that of France or Portland, Oregon, you're probably in the clear."
Holidaymakers in Canary Islands, Santa Maria and Lisbon, Madrid and Barcelona. Lisbon, Madrid and Barcelona face having their flights cancelled as a result while flights into these areas have been diverted.
The airport in Marseille, France, has also been put on high alert.
China launched the third and final piece of its new Tiangong space station on Monday – and warnings had been sounded about the rocket's 23-ton body coming back down on Earth with Spain identified as one of the countries in its path.
The module, which weighs 20 tons and was detached from the 'Long March-5B Y4', is part of China's ambitious space plan to create its own International Space Station.
Debris from the rocket was expected to break the atmosphere on Saturday, according to aerospace experts who are scrambling to determine its path back home.
It prompted pleas for further information from Chinese authorities.
Gregory Henning, Project Leader at The Aerospace Corporation’s Centre for Orbital Debris and Reentry Studies (CORDS) suggested that there is still too much uncertainty in the data and models to make a prediction.
“As the rocket body’s altitude decreases and the re-entry approaches, the window will shrink, and will begin to reveal locations that will not be the landing site,” Henning told the Daily Mail.
“But the exact location will not be known until it actually enters.”
Spain recently reopened its airspace. It's not clear how many flight were affected or will be affected by ongoing delays as the situation gets back to normal.
The latest rocket malfunction mirrors a crash in July after space debris from a previous Chinese launch plummeted in the Indian Ocean near Malaysia.
At the time experts failed to disclose its exact location following fears that it could have hit a populated town or village.
But while major cities again appear to be safe from the falling debris on this occasion, Henning suggested that “88 per cent of the world’s population does live within those at-risk latitude bounds” of the booster’s expected landing area.
However, the odds of an individual being affected are said to be about six in 10 trillion.
This is the third time in two years that the Chinese space authorities have generated this global danger, which NASA has described on other occasions as irresponsible.
The rocket was scheduled to enter the Earth's atmosphere in the early hours of Saturday, but the impact has been advanced to this Friday before 12:30 noon.
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It is expected to fall into the Indian Ocean in the form of space junk without risk to the population.
The rocket measured 17.8 meters, had a diameter of 4.2 meters and weighed about 23.3 tons at the time of liftoff.
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