China said Friday that the risk of damage from a rocket falling back to Earth was “extremely low” after the United States warned it could fall against an inhabited area.
U.S. military experts expect the body of the Long March 5B rocket, which separated from the Beijing space station, to go down some time on Saturday or Sunday, but warned that it was difficult to predict where it would land and when.
But Beijing minimized the risk of danger. “The likelihood of causing damage to air or field activities is extremely low,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said.
Most components of the rocket would likely be destroyed when it returned to the atmosphere, he added, saying authorities would “inform the public of the situation in a timely manner.”
China has invested billions of dollars in space exploration in efforts to reflect its growing global stature and growing technological power, following in the footsteps of the United States, Russia and Europe.
As feverish speculation about the rocket’s trajectory toward Earth spread on social media, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Thursday that the U.S. military had no plans to shoot it down.
“We have the ability to do a lot of things, but we have no plans to bring them down,” Austin told reporters.
Hopefully, he said, the rocket will land “in a place where it won’t harm anyone … the ocean, or somewhere like that.”
Even if the rocket or some parts of it fall from the sky, without breaking when re-entering, there is a good chance that it will only splash into the ocean on a planet made up of 70% water.
But Austin suggested the Chinese were negligent in dropping the rocket’s body out of orbit, and said those in the “space domain” should “operate safely and thoughtfully.”
The location of the rocket’s descent into Earth’s atmosphere when it falls from space “cannot be determined until a few hours after its re-entry,” which is expected to occur around May 8, he said. the United States Space Command.
Harvard-based astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell said there was a possibility that pieces of the rocket could fall to the ground, such as in May 2020, when parts of another Chinese Long March 5B rocket rained down on Costa of Ivory, causing damage to several buildings.
He said potentially hazardous waste would escape incineration after passing through the atmosphere at hypersonic speed, but would most likely fall into the sea.
According to its current orbit, the rubble trail is likely to fall somewhere as far north as New York, Madrid or Beijing and south to south from Chile and Wellington, New Zealand or anywhere else, McDowell said.
‘Nation of science’
The space has become the last theater of the great play between China and the United States.
The launch of the first Chinese module of its “Heavenly Palace” space station in April (housing of life support equipment and a living space for astronauts) was a milestone in Beijing’s ambitious plan to establish a presence. human standing in space.
President Xi Jinping defined it as a key step in “building a great nation of science and technology.”
With the withdrawal of the International Space Station after 2024, China could become the only space station in Earth orbit.
Although Chinese space authorities have said they are open to foreign cooperation, the scope of this cooperation is still unclear.
The European Space Agency has sent astronauts to China to receive training to be ready to work inside the Chinese space station once launched.
China also said in March that it planned to build an independent lunar space station with Russia.
The facility, planned for the surface or in the orbit of the Moon, would house experimental research facilities and would be Beijing’s largest international space cooperation project to date.
The Long March rocket is not the first time China has lost control of a spacecraft when it returns to Earth.
The Tiangong-1 space laboratory disintegrated when it returned to the atmosphere in 2018, two years after it ceased operations, although Chinese authorities denied that they had lost control of the spacecraft.