A Chinese rocket, thought to be out of control, is set to crash back to Earth this weekend.
Space agencies are tracking debris from the Long March 5B, which last week launched the main module of China’s first permanent space station into orbit. The roughly 100ft long stage, said to be the size of five buildings, would be among the biggest space debris to fall to Earth.
Experts expect it to fall to Earth on Saturday buts ay it is impossible to know where exactly it will land as its speed makes it too unpredictable.
China’s space agency has yet to say whether the rocket is being controlled or will make an out-of-control descent. But the Global Times newspaper, published by the Chinese Communist party, has claimed the rocket’s “thin-skinned” aluminium-alloy exterior will easily burn up in the atmosphere, posing an extremely remote risk to people.
Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Astrophysics Center at Harvard University, said that the debris is most likely to fall in the ocean as that’s what makes up most of Earth.
“I don’t think people should take precautions. The risk that there will be some damage or that it would hit someone is pretty small — not negligible, it could happen — but the risk that it will hit you is incredibly tiny.
There is a chance that pieces of the rocket could come down over land, perhaps in a populated area, as in May 2020, when pieces from another Chinese Long March 5B rocket rained down on the Ivory Coast, damaging several buildings, though no injuries were reported, McDowell said.
“And so I would not lose one second of sleep over this on a personal threat basis,” he said, before adding: “There are much bigger things to worry about.”
China’s first space station, Tiangong-1, crashed into the Pacific 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.
In March debris from a Falcon 9 rocket launched by US company SpaceX fell to Earth in Washington and on the Oregon coast.