Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbing said Chinese authorities would release information about the re-entry of the rocket, expected this weekend, “in due course.” According to Wang, China “pays great attention to re-entering the upper stage of the rocket into the atmosphere.”
“As far as I know, this type of rocket adopts a special engineering design, and the vast majority of aircraft will be burned and destroyed during the reentry process, which has a very low probability of harming aviation activities and the ground,” Wang said during a regular briefing.
The largest section of the rocket that launched the main module of China’s first permanent space station into orbit is expected to return to Earth on Saturday in an unknown location.
Usually, the rejected rocket stages re-enter the atmosphere shortly after take-off, normally over water, and do not go into orbit.
The Chinese space agency has yet to say whether the main stage of the massive Long March 5B rocket is being controlled or will make an uncontrolled descent. Last May, another Chinese rocket fell uncontrollably in the Atlantic Ocean off West Africa.
Communist Party newspaper Global Times said the “thin-skinned” aluminum alloy exterior of the stage would easily burn in the atmosphere, posing an extremely low risk to people.
No plans to knock down the remains: Pentagon
The US Department of Defense expects the rocket stage to fall to Earth on Saturday.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Thursday that there were no plans at this point to bring down the remains of the rocket. Speaking to reporters, Austin said the hope is the rocket will land in the ocean.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told a briefing on Wednesday that the US Space Command was “aware of the location” of the Chinese rocket and was following it.
The non-profit Aerospace Corp. expects debris to reach the Pacific near the equator after passing through cities in the eastern United States.
The rocket’s orbit is less than 41 degrees north latitude, which means Canada will not be in danger if something does manage to land. (Most of Canada is above 49 degrees north latitude, with the country’s southernmost point at 42 degrees.)
The Long March 5B rocket launched Tianhe’s Main Module, or Heavenly Harmony, into orbit on April 29. China is planning 10 more launches to put additional parts of the space station into orbit.
The roughly 30-meter-long stage is said to be one of the largest space junk to fall on Earth.
The rocket that fell last May was the largest piece of debris to fall uncontrollably from the former Soviet space station Salyut 7 in 1991.
China’s first space station, Tiangong-1, crashed in 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.
In March, debris from a Falcon 9 rocket launched by the US aerospace company SpaceX fell to Earth in Washington and on the Oregon coast.