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Pentagon Tracking Chinese Rocket Debris Making ‘Uncontrolled Reentry’ From Orbit after Space Station Launch

Pentagon Tracking Chinese Rocket Debris Making ‘Uncontrolled Reentry’ From Orbit after Space Station Launch
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By Staff, Agencies

The US military said it is tracking the remnants of a Chinese rocket as large pieces of the craft race back to Earth at thousands of miles per hour, making an uncontrolled reentry after the first launch for Beijing’s new space station.

The 18th Space Control Squadron of the US Space Force will plot the Long March 5B rocket’s trajectory as it reenters the atmosphere, Pentagon spokesman Mike Howard said in a statement on Tuesday, noting that its exact path won’t be known for several days.

“US Space Command is aware of and tracking the location of the Chinese Long March 5B in space, but its exact entry point into the Earth’s atmosphere cannot be pinpointed until within hours of its reentry,” he said, suggesting that could come by May 8.

In the meantime, Howard said the squadron would provide daily updates on the rocket and its location through a special website.

The craft was sent into orbit late last month, embarking on an 18-month project to construct China’s first-ever space station. The successful April 30 launch put the station’s first module – dubbed Tianhe, or “Harmony of the Heavens” – into low Earth orbit, set to be joined by two smaller modules, Wentian [“Quest for the Heavens”] and Mengtian [“Dreaming of the Heavens”].

While the 22-ton rocket stage detached from the Tianhe module as intended, it was unable to maneuver into a safe deorbiting path for a controlled reentry.

The uncertain trajectory of the rocket was reported within hours of the launch, though the Pentagon only acknowledged the matter on Tuesday, as did Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, which said it is tracking the rocket and expects the craft to return to Earth sometime around May 8. The EU’s Space Surveillance and Tracking network also said it is monitoring the situation.

While a number of corporate media outlets in the US reported the story in dire tones, with both Forbes and CNN warning of an “out-of-control Chinese rocket,” Harvard University astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell insists the craft is no cause for alarm, telling CNN it does not spell “the end of days.”

“I don’t think people should take precautions. The risk that there will be some damage or that it would hit someone is pretty small – not negligible, it could happen – but the risk that it will hit you is incredibly tiny. And so I would not lose one second of sleep over this on a personal threat basis,” he said.

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