Debris from a Chinese rocket is expected to fall back to Earth in an uncontrolled re-entry this weekend. It is not clear where and when exactly the rocket parts will crash on the surface. The Long March 5B rocket was launched in late April to carry the first module of China’s future space station into orbit. The body of the rocket is currently circling Earth, about to enter the lower atmosphere.
The US on Thursday said it was watching the path of the object but currently had no plans to shoot it down. The US Space Command is tracking the trajectory, Defense Department spokesperson Mike Howard said in a statement cited by CNN, and expects the Chinese Long March 5B rocket’s appearance “around May 8.” Howard said the rocket’s exact entry point won’t be known until within hours of reentry, but daily updates on its location will be provided at the Space Track website. An image taken from Italy shows that the rocket stage was at about 700 kilometers (434.9 miles) from the telescope position, while the sun was just a few degrees below the horizon and the sky was incredibly bright. “This is huge debris (22 tons, 30 meters/98 feet long and 5 meters/16 feet wide), but it is unlikely it could create serious damage and we’re hopeful that it will land in a place where it won’t harm anyone,” US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said. “Hopefully in the ocean, or someplace like that.” He also indirectly criticised China, saying there was a need to “make sure that we take those kinds of things into consideration as we plan and conduct operations”.
Chinese state media has over the past days played down fears the rocket might crash on inhabited land, suggesting it will fall somewhere in international waters. The Global Times quoted aerospace expert Song Zhongping who added that China’s space monitoring network would keep a close watch and take necessary measures should damage occur.