BEIJING – A large part of a Chinese rocket is expected to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere in an uncontrolled manner early on Sunday. However, Beijing has downplayed fear of damage to the ground, saying the risk is very low.
A Long March 5B rocket launched the first module of the new Chinese space station into orbit on April 29th.
The main 18-ton segment is now in free fall and experts have said it is difficult to say exactly where and when it will get back into the atmosphere.
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Harvard-based astronomer Jonathan McDowell tweeted on Saturday: “The new 18SPCS Space Force forecast limits things to one orbit: Costa Rica, Haiti, Iberia, Sardinia, Italy, Greece and Crete, Israel, Jordan, Saudi -Arabia, Australia, New Zealand. ”
Space-Track, using US military data, tweeted that the re-entry window is now expected to be 0104-0304 GMT Sunday, but warned that the uncertainty over the timing made it difficult to pinpoint the location.
The 18th Squadron of the US Space Forces at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California “will only know the exact location after the rocket has landed,” said Space-Track.
The Chinese authorities have announced that most of the missile components are likely to be destroyed during the descent.
“The likelihood of causing damage … on the ground is extremely low,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters on Friday.
Although there has been feverish speculation about where exactly the rocket – or parts of it – will land, there is a good chance that uncommitted debris will simply splash into the ocean, since the planet is 70 percent water.
“We hope it ends up in a place where it won’t harm anyone,” said Pentagon spokesman Mike Howard.
Howard said the United States is tracking the missile segment, but “its exact point of entry into Earth’s atmosphere cannot be determined for hours after it re-enters.” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the US military had no plans However, to shoot down the missile segment suggested that China negligently dropped it out of orbit. “Given the size of the object, it necessarily leaves large pieces,” said Florent Delefie, astronomer at the PSL Observatory in Paris.
“The likelihood of debris landing in an inhabited area is slim, probably one in a million.”
Last year, debris from another Long March missile fell on villages in Ivory Coast, causing structural damage but no injury or deaths.
McDowell said that while there was no need to worry “too much”, the missile’s design required a rethink to prevent e reoccurs in such a scenario.
“There’s a real chance of damage to what it hits, and the outside chance of an accident,” he said.
“It’s not a good practice, a ton.” Shards of metal blown into the earth at hundreds of kilometers per hour, and China should redesign the Long March 5B missions to avoid it. “
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