As 23 tons of Chinese space junk hovers above the Earth preparing to make a blazing descent, the U.S. Space Force is monitoring the massive rocket booster that sent a piece of China’s space station aloft last week.
According to Space News, the Space Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron currently projects that the rocket will tumble to Earth sometime between 10:13 a.m. on May 8 and 4:13 a.m. on May 9.
The Chinese Long March 5B could land in a sector of the globe bounded by the New York City region to the north and New Zealand to the south.
Out of control 21-ton Chinese 5B rocket in orbital decay and could crash on Earth on Saturday. Could hit inhabited areas, including New York. Exact location of impact unknown at this time. Image Credit: The Sun pic.twitter.com/1VaDB6eSvJ
— Antonio Paris (@AntonioParis) May 5, 2021
“We’re tracking it, we’re following it as closely as we can. It’s just a little too soon right now to know where it’s going to go or what if anything can be done about that,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said at a Wednesday media briefing.
“So I don’t want to hypothesize or speculate about — about possible actions the department might or might not take here.”
“We’re hopeful that it will land in a place where it won’t harm anyone,” U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, according to BBC. “Hopefully in the ocean, or someplace like that.”
The New York Post additionally reported Austin said shooting down the rocket is not in the cards.
“At this point, we don’t have a plan to shoot the rocket down,” he said.
“We have the capability to do a lot of things, but we don’t have a plan to shoot it down as we speak.”
China sought to project an image of being in control of the situation, according to Space News.
“China is following closely the upper stage’s reentry into the atmosphere,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said.
“To my knowledge, the upper stage of this rocket has been deactivated, which means that most of its parts will burn up upon reentry, making the likelihood of damage to aviation or ground facilities and activities extremely low. The competent authority will release relevant information in a timely manner.”
— SPACE.com (@SPACEdotcom) May 6, 2021
But sending 23 tons of wreckage into orbit that may fall on a populated area drew the ire of some.
“I think it’s negligent of them,” said Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, according to The Times.
“It’s not a trivial thing to design something for a deliberate re-entry, but it’s nevertheless something that the world as a whole has moved to because we needed to,” Ted J. Muelhaupt, the principal director of Aerospace’s Center for Orbital and Re-entry Debris Studies, added.
In March, the second stage of a Falcon 9 rocket used by SpaceX returned to Earth in a fiery spectacle that saw most of the rocket burn up upon re-entry, although some pieces of debris reached the ground.
Last May, China’s first Long March 5B made a similar uncontrolled re-entry, scattering debris across the Atlantic Ocean and part of western Africa.
At the time, estimates of the rocket’s path indicated that had it returned to Earth 30 minutes sooner, debris would have landed on the U.S.
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