Chinese rocket debris expected to crash on to Earth this weekend – BBC News

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.

“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.

What will happen to the rocket?

The rocket is currently in a low orbit, which means it circles around the Earth but is still gradually pulled down.

“Drag will slow the object causing loss of altitude, bringing it down into denser atmosphere, which in turn causes more drag and further loss of velocity and altitude,” Jason Herrin of the Earth Observatory Singapore, told the BBC.

“Once this process starts, the object will be locked into an irreversible downward journey,” he explains.

The rocket is expected to largely burn up as the atmosphere gets more and more dense at about 60km altitude from the surface. The parts that don’t burn up completely will remain and fall to Earth.

If all this happens uncontrolled, the place where the rocket burns up and where the debris will fall can be neither controlled nor accurately predicted.

A previous launch of another Long March 5B in 2020 also saw the body re-enter in an uncontrolled way, with some debris crashing in a rural part of Ivory Coast

Source: Chinese rocket debris expected to crash on to Earth this weekend – BBC News

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