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China Says Rocket Debris Unlikely to Cause Damage

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by May 7, 2021 General

An out-of-control Chinese rocket is expected to reenter Earth’s atmosphere this weekend, but experts do not know where debris from the craft will land or exactly when it will happen.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Friday that the rocket is unlikely to cause damage.

Wang told reporters in Beijing that the rocket will mostly burn up on reentry and “the probability of this process causing harm on the ground is extremely low.”

He said China is closely following the rocket’s path toward Earth and will release any information about it in a “timely manner.”

The Long March 5B rocket was launched April 29 from Hainan Island. It was carrying a module for a planned Chinese space station. After the unmanned Tianhe module separated from the rocket, the nearly 21,000-kilogram rocket should have followed a planned reentry trajectory into the ocean. Because that did not happen as planned, the rocket will now make an uncontrolled reentry, and no one knows yet where the debris will land.

“U.S. Space Command is aware of and tracking the location of the Chinese Long March 5B in space, but its exact entry point into the Earth’s atmosphere cannot be pinpointed until within hours of its reentry,” Lieutenant Colonel Angela Webb, of U.S. Space Command Public Affairs, told CBS News.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said that “this rocket debris” is “almost the body of the rocket, as I understand it, almost intact, coming down, and we think Space Command believes, somewhere around the 8th of May.” [[https://www.defense.gov/Newsroom/Transcripts/Transcript/Article/2597477/pentagon-press-secretary-conducts-on-camera-press-briefing/]]

Reentry is expected Saturday or Sunday.

While the odds are good that any debris will fall into the ocean, in May 2020, debris from another Long March 5B rocket fell on parts of Ivory Coast, causing damage to some buildings.

Harvard-based astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell told Reuters that the debris could fall as far north as New York or as far south as Wellington, New Zealand.

Speaking with reporters Thursday, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the United States has no plans to try to shoot down the rocket.

“We have the capability to do a lot of things, but we don’t have a plan to shoot it down as we speak,” Austin said.

“We’re hopeful that it will land in a place where it won’t harm anyone. Hopefully in the ocean, or someplace like that,” he added.

The launch of the Tianhe module is the first of 11 planned missions to build the Chinese space station.

Source: Voice of America

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