By Newsweek and published by MSN News
THE Long March 5B rocket carried the main module of Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony, China’s first permanent space station into orbit on April 29.
Discarded rocket stages are usually immediately guided into a controlled demolition by friction in Earth’s atmosphere. But China’s space agency has yet to comment publicly on the rocket’s trajectory of reentry or say whether the “core stage” of the rocket is being controlled or will make an out-of-control descent.
The US Department of Defence expects the rocket stage to fall to Earth on Saturday. Where it will hit “cannot be pinpointed until within hours of its reentry,” the Pentagon said in a statement on Tuesday.
The nonprofit Aerospace Corp. expects the debris to hit the Pacific near the Equator after passing over eastern US cities. Its orbit covers a swath of the planet from New Zealand to Newfoundland.
Phone calls to the China National Space Administration weren’t answered today (May 5), a holiday.
However, the newspaper Global Times, published by the Chinese Communist Party, said the stage’s “thin-skinned” aluminum-alloy exterior will easily burn up in the atmosphere, posing an extremely remote risk to people.
The roughly 30-metre (100-foot) -long stage would be among the biggest space debris to fall to Earth.
Last May, another Chinese rocket fell uncontrolled into the Atlantic Ocean off West Africa.
China’s first space station, Tiangong-1, crashed into the Pacific Ocean in 2016 after Beijing confirmed it had lost control. In 2019, the space agency controlled the demolition of its second station, Tiangong-2, in the atmosphere.
In March, debris from a Falcon 9 rocket launched by US aeronautics company SpaceX fell to Earth in Washington and on the Oregon coast.
People watch a Long March 5B rocket, which carries China’s Tianhe space station core module, lifting off from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre, in southern China’s Hainan province on April 29, 2021. The rocket is expected to land back on Earth as early as Saturday. Photo: AFP/STR via Getty Images and published by MSN News