The US Space Command is tracking debris from a Chinese rocket that is set to crash back into Earth this weekend. American officials say that it expects the rocket, which will disintegrate upon reentry, will scatter debris over the Pacific ocean near the Equator.
However, the Long March 5B Chinese rocket will pass over eastern US cities, as its orbit covers a path from New Zealand to Newfoundland. Meanwhile, the US Defense Department said it cannot pinpoint exactly where the rocket will travel “until within hours of its re-entry.”
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Out of Control Chinese Rocket
The Chinese rocket, named Long March 5B, launched Tianhe, the main module of China’s first permanent space station into orbit.
Once it delivers its cargo, the rocket’s engines shut down where it will reenter the Earth’s atmosphere as soon as it slows down enough. The roughly 30-meter (100ft) long rocket remnant will then freefall back to Earth. However, most of it will burn up on reentry.
As the Pacific Ocean covers a majority of the Earth’s surface, the debris will likely splash down in Pacific waters somewhere.
Jonathan McDowell, Harvard University astrophysicist who tracks and catalogs satellite orbits, said that the risk that the rocket debris will hit anyone is “incredibly tiny. And so I would not lose one second of sleep over this.”
Responsible Space Behaviors
Reacting to the incoming crash, the White House called for “responsible space behaviors” among the planet’s space agencies. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that growing congestion is a concern.
“The United States is committed to addressing the risks of growing congestion due to space debris and growing activity in space and we want to work with the international community to promote leadership and responsible space behaviors,” she said.
China’s space agency has yet to confirm if they still have control of the rocket. The Chinese Communist Party claims that the rocket’s “thin-skinned” aluminum-alloy exterior will easily burn up in the atmosphere.
This means it poses an extremely remote risk to people. However, experts predict that some parts of the rocket will survive re-entry and crash back to Earth. The expected debris can take the “equivalent of a small plane crash scattered over 100 miles.
McDowell said that the last time China launched a Long March 5B Rocket, “big long rods of metal” flew. He added that the debris damaged several buildings on the Ivory Coast. “What’s bad is that it’s really negligent on China’s part. Things more than 10 tonnes, we don’t let them fall out of the sky uncontrolled deliberately,” he added.
US Won’t Shoot It Down
Meanwhile, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the US doesn’t “have a plan to shoot the rocket down” when it descends to Earth. Austin remains hopeful the Chinese rocket will “land in a place where it won’t harm anyone. Hopefully in the ocean, or someplace like that.” he added.
Austin also indirectly criticized China for the Chinese rocket’s out-of-control behavior. He said there is a need to “make sure that we take those kinds of things into consideration as we plan and conduct operations.”
Watch the MSNBC video reporting that the used Chinese Rocket debris could hit Earth this weekend:
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