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The Long March-5B rocket being readied for space before its April 23 launch.
The Long March-5B rocket being readied for space before its April 23 launch.
Image: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

US Military are monitoring the uncontrolled re-entry crash of a Chinese rocket

Pentagon experts believe that the Long March 5B rocket will crash onto the surface sometime on Saturday or Sunday.
May 7th 2021, 9:38 AM 20,778 37

THE US MILITARY has said it is monitoring the re-entry of an out-of-control Chinese rocket.

American Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the Pentagon has no plans to shoot down an out -of-control Chinese rocket now tumbling towards Earth.

“We have the capability to do a lot of things, but we don’t have a plan to shoot it down as we speak,” Austin said.

Pentagon experts expect the body of the Long March 5B rocket, which fell out of orbit after separating from Beijing’s space station, to fall to the surface sometime on Saturday or Sunday.

But exactly when and where it will land is still difficult to predict.

“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.

He suggested that the Chinese were negligent in letting the rocket body fall out of orbit.

“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,” said Austin.

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.

After its separation from the space station module, the rocket began to orbit the Earth in an irregular trajectory as it slowly lost altitude, making any predictions about where it will re-enter the atmosphere or fall back to the ground nearly impossible.

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It could end up breaking apart upon entry, with only smaller debris bits falling to Earth — and even if the rocket falls from the sky mostly intact, there is a good chance it will just splash down into the ocean on a planet made up of 70 percent water.

But neither of those outcomes is certain, and there is a chance the rocket could crash land into an inhabited area or onto a ship.

It is not the first time China has lost control of a space craft as it returns to Earth. The space laboratory Tiangong-1 disintegrated upon re-entry into the atmosphere in 2018, two years after it had stopped working, though Chinese authorities denied they had lost control of the ship.

With reporting from Niall O’Connor

 © AFP 2021

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