Rocket part to fall, but spot is unknown
BEIJING — The largest section of the rocket that launched the main module of China’s first permanent space station into orbit is expected to plunge back to Earth as early as Saturday at an unknown spot.
Usually, discarded rocket stages are immediately guided into a controlled demolition by friction in Earth’s atmosphere, but the Chinese rocket section was not.
China’s space agency has yet to say whether the “core stage” of the huge Long March 5B rocket is being controlled or will make an uncontrolled descent. Last May, another Chinese rocket fell uncontrolled into the Atlantic Ocean off West Africa.
Basic details about the rocket stage and its trajectory are unknown because the Chinese government has yet to comment publicly on the reentry.
However, the newspaper Global Times, published by the Chinese Communist Party, said the stage’s “thinskinned” aluminum-alloy exterior will easily burn up in the atmosphere, posing an extremely remote risk to people.
The U.S. Defense Department expects the rocket stage to fall to Earth on Saturday.
Where it will hit “cannot be pinpointed until within hours of its reentry,” the Pentagon said in a statement Tuesday.