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China Says Rocket Debris Unlikely to Cause Damage

By VOA News May 07, 2021

Debris from a large, out-of-control Chinese rocket that is expected to reenter the atmosphere this weekend is unlikely to cause damage, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Friday.

The Long March 5B rocket was launched April 29 from Hainan Island. It was carrying a module for a planned Chinese space station. After the unmanned Tianhe module separated from the rocket, the nearly 21,000-kilogram rocket should have followed a planned reentry trajectory into the ocean, but now, no one knows where the debris will land.

"U.S. 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," Lt. Col. Angela Webb, U.S. Space Command Public Affairs, told CBS News.

Reentry is expected May 8.

While the odds are that any debris will fall into the ocean, in May 2020, debris from another Long March 5B rocket fell on parts of Ivory Coast, causing damage to some buildings.

Harvard-based astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell told Reuters that the debris could fall as far north as New York or as far south as Wellington, New Zealand.

Speaking with reporters Thursday, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the United States has no plans to try to shoot down the rocket.

"We have the capability to do a lot of things, but we don't have a plan to shoot it down as we speak," said Austin.

"We're hopeful that it will land in a place where it won't harm anyone. Hopefully in the ocean, or someplace like that," he added.

The launch of the Tianhe module is the first of 11 planned missions to build the Chinese space station.

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