The largest section of the rocket that launched the main module of China’s first permanent space station into orbit looks set to crash back to earth as early as Saturday at an unknown location.
Discarded core rockets typically re-enter soon after lift-off, usually over water, and do not go into orbit like this one did.
There are fears that the the Long March 5B rocket could land on a populated area.
The last time a Long March rocket was launched in May 2020, debris was reported falling on villages in the Ivory Coast.
China’s space agency has yet to clarify whether the core stage of the huge Long March 5B rocket is being controlled or will make an out-of-control descent.
Basic details about the rocket stage and its trajectory are unknown because the Chinese government has yet to comment publicly on the re-entry.
However, the newspaper Global Times, published by the Chinese Communist Party, said the stage’s “thin-skinned” aluminum-alloy exterior would easily burn up in the atmosphere, posing an extremely remote risk to people.
The US Defence Department expects the rocket stage to fall to earth on Saturday.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki at a Wednesday briefing said the US Space Command was “aware of and tracking the location” of the Chinese rocket.
The non-profit Aerospace Corp expects the debris to hit the Pacific near the equator.
The rocket carried the main module of Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony, into orbit on April 29.
China plans 10 more launches to carry additional parts of the space station into orbit.
The roughly 30-metre-long stage would be among the biggest space debris to fall to earth.
China’s first space station, Tiangong-1, crashed into the Pacific Ocean in 2016 after Beijing confirmed it had lost control.
In 2019, the space agency controlled the demolition of its second station, Tiangong-2, in the atmosphere.