China’s Long March 5B Rocket is expected to tumble back to Earth this weekend, but at an unknown place, which as we described earlier is driving fears that tons of debris could fall on populated areas below.
China is now seeking to calm fears as well as international criticism over the rocket’s uncontrolled descent as it is still circling the globe some 15 times a day at a speed of about 18,000mph. “The probability of this process causing harm on the ground is extremely low,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said in a new statement. But it’s 100-feet in length and 22 tons in weight gives it the potential to be the biggest space debris to ever fall to the earth.
The spokesman said further that China is closely monitoring the rocket’s reentry into the atmosphere and that it’s expected that most of it will be burned up in the process. China’s Global Times also this week speculated it’s likely to fall down somewhere in international waters.
US Space Command said that it too is carefully tracking the rocket’s location during the uncontrolled reentry, but stressed that it “cannot be pinpointed until within hours of its reentry,” currently projected to happen likely on Saturday, May 8.
The US military went so far as to clarify that no, it does not have plans to shoot down the rocket at this time – though we can imagine plans would change if it were confirmed to be hurling toward New York City or Washington D.C. “We have the capability to do a lot of things but we don’t have a plan to shoot it down as we speak,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters Thursday.
“We’re hopeful that it will land in a place where it won’t harm anyone. Hopefully in the ocean, or someplace like that,” Austin said. But he also strongly suggested that China was negligent in allowing the rocket body to fall out of orbit and enter an uncontrollable trajectory:
“I think this speaks to the fact that, for those of us who operate in the space domain, there’s a requirement, or should be a requirement to operate in a safe and thoughtful mode,” Austin said
There is a need to “make sure that we take those kinds of things into consideration as we plan and conduct operations” in space, he said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Thursday there was no plan at this point to shoot down the remnants of a large Chinese rocket expected to plunge back through the atmosphere this weekend. pic.twitter.com/DoULRdEgQu
— ANews (@anews) May 7, 2021
The Long March 5B rocket was launched on April 28 in order to send key components to China’s new next-generation space station, but there are already ten more similar supply missions to the space station planned, suggesting the likelihood of many more such scenarios to come wherein the world waits expectantly for falling rocket to debris to hopefully avoid inhabited areas, or not cause severe damage.
The Associated Press writes while citing the words of Harvard-based astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, “Based on its current orbit, the debris trail is likely to fall somewhere as far north as New York, Madrid, or Beijing and as far south as southern Chile and Wellington, New Zealand, or anywhere in between.”