Remnants of a large Chinese rocket launched last week are expected to plunge back through the atmosphere this weekend in an uncontrolled re-entry being tracked by US Space Command, the US military said on Wednesday.
The Long March 5B rocket blasted off from China’s Hainan island on April 29 carrying the Tianhe module, which contains what will become living quarters for three crew on a permanent Chinese space station. The Tianhe launch was the first of 11 missions needed to complete the station.
The rocket’s exact point of descent into Earth’s atmosphere as it falls back from space “cannot be pinpointed until within hours of its reentry,” which is projected to occur around May 8, Space Command said in a statement posted online.
Harvard-based astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell said potentially dangerous debris will likely escape incineration after streaking through the atmosphere at hypersonic speed but in all likelihood would fall into the sea, given that 70% of the world is covered by ocean.
There is a chance that pieces of the rocket could come down over land, perhaps in a populated area, as in May 2020, when pieces from another Chinese Long March 5B rocket rained down on the Ivory Coast, damaging several buildings, though no injuries were reported, McDowell told Reuters.