A large section of the Chinese rocket is in an uncontrolled free-fall toward Earth and the latest track predicted that debris could crash into a potentially populated area. On April 29, China launched a Long March-5B rocket that took the first module of its new space station into Earth’s orbit. While multi-stage rockets usually fall back before orbiting the Earth, it went into an orbit and had to come back into the atmosphere.
The 18-tonne main section of the rocket is now in a free-fall, but Beijing has reduced the possibility of damage. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters on Friday that the upper stage of the rocket had been deactivated, insisting that most of its parts would burn on re-entry and that the damage to the ground was extremely likely is less.
The argument that the debris would settle in the ocean, given that the planet is 70 percent water, was also put forward. Florent DeLaffi, an astronomer at the Paris-PSL Observatory, told news agency AFP that large pieces would survive due to the size of the rocket. He further added, “The chances of debris landing on an inhabited zone are tiny, probably one in a million”.
However, the latest prediction by the US military, which is tracking the rocket segment, is not encouraging according to CNN. The US military has predicted that the debris will fall on Saturday at 7 pm Eastern Time Saturday in Turkmenistan, Central Asia (4.30 am IST on Sunday), according to CNN.
Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told AFP that whatever hits have a real chance of harm, suggesting an outside chance of a casualty. This is not the first time a Chinese rocket has caused concern for residents on Earth. In 2020, debris from another Long March rocket fell on villages in Ivory Coast, a West African country, causing structural damage. But there were no injuries or deaths in the accident.
McDowell further added in his statement, “Having a ton of metal shards flying into the Earth at hundreds of kilometers per hour is not good practice, and China should redesign the Long-March 5B missions to avoid this”.