China rocket debris could hit Earth this weekend
Debris from a rocket launched into orbit by the Chinese space agency orbit could fall back to Earth this weekend, according to the US.
A rocket belonging to the Chinese space agency that’s currently orbiting Earth is expected to reenter our planet’s atmosphere, potentially causing debris to fall to the ground.
The Long March 5B rocket was launched by China in April 2021 to transport the first module of the country's upcoming Tiangong Space Station into Earth orbit.
Now, the rocket’s body is orbiting Earth and about to re-enter the atmosphere.
The US has confirmed it has no plans to shoot down the rocket, but said it cannot yet determine exactly where or when the rocket will reenter Earth's atmosphere.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said: "We don't have a plan to shoot the rocket down. We're hopeful that it will land in a place where it won't harm anyone: hopefully in the ocean."
Austin also told journalists during a press briefing that the latest estimates are that the rocket would come down to Earth on 8 or 9 May.
In what may be indirect criticism of the Chinese space agency, Austin also said "For those of us who operate in the space domain, there should be a requirement to operate in a safe and thoughtful mode, and that we take those kinds of things into consideration as we plan and conduct operations."
The English-language Chinese newspaper Global Times reported the story earlier this week and said Chinese space analysts predict it "very likely" that the rocket will land in international waters.
It said US claims of rocket debris causing harm to civilians were reported by observers as "Western hype".
The Long March 5B rocket launched on 29 April 2021 from China's Hainan island. It was carrying the Tianhe module, containing the living quarters for 3 crew members on the future Chinese space station.
This was the launch of the first of 11 missions that will see the construction of the Tiangong Space Station, which will be similar to the International Space Station.
Iain Todd is BBC Sky at Night Magazine's Staff Writer. He fell in love with the night sky when he caught his first glimpse of Orion, aged 10.