The largest section of the Long March 5B rocket that launched the main module of China’s first permanent space station into orbit is expected to plunge back to Earth as early as Saturday at an unknown location.
However, China’s Space Agency has not yet commented on the concern expressed by many countries. Basic details about the rocket stage and its trajectory are unknown because the Chinese government has yet to comment publicly on the reentry. The agency has also not revealed if the debris is being controlled or will make an out-of-control descent.
The roughly 30-meter (100-foot) -long stage would be among the biggest space debris to fall to Earth. Such discarded cores, or first-stage, of the rockets usually reenter earth’s atmosphere soon after liftoff. They normally hover over water and fall into the ocean but are not expected to go into orbit uncontrolled like this.
The U.S. Defense Department says that it expects the rocket stage to fall to Earth on Saturday. The Aerospace Corp. of US expects the section to fall in the Pacific near the Equator after passing over eastern U.S. cities.
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 Long March 5B rocket carried the main module of Tianhe into orbit on April 29. China plans 10 more launches to carry additional parts of the space station into orbit.
This is not the first time that the Chinese have the world concerned about the parts from their rockets falling back to earth uncontrolled.
Last May, a 18-ton rocket that fell was the heaviest debris to fall uncontrolled since the former Soviet space station Salyut 7 in 1991.
China’s first space station, Tiangong-1, crashed into the Pacific Ocean in 2016 after Beijing confirmed it had lost control.
In 2019, China’s space agency controlled the demolition of its second station, Tiangong-2, in the atmosphere as it went into an uncontrolled spin in earth atmosphere and threatened to fall on inhabited land.