The US is tracking an uncontrolled Chinese rocket traveling at 18,000 miles an hour that is due to crash-land around May 8

Long March 5B China Tianhe space station
The Long March 5B rocket carrying China’s Tianhe space station core module launched from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in China on April 29.

  • US Space Command said it is watching fragments of a Chinese rocket due to crash soon.
  • The estimated landing time is around May 8. Nobody knows exactly where it will hit.
  • The location of the debris will be known only “hours” before its reentry, Space Command said.
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The Pentagon has said it is tracking a chunk of a Chinese rocket that is due to come back into the atmosphere in the coming days in an uncontrolled re-entry.

As of now, they do not know where the debris could land.

The exact point at which the rocket will enter the atmosphere will only be known within “hours” of its reentry, the US Space Command, a branch of the US military, said in a statement on Tuesday.

The core of the rocket, which was launched by China on April 29, has been predicted to come back to Earth “around May 8,” Space Command said. Its exact trajectory is still unclear.

The rocket is currently in orbit and will be falling back to Earth uncontrolled, Insider’s Morgan McFall-Johnsen reported on Saturday.

Harvard astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell told CNN that the rocket is travelling at 18,000 miles per hour, which means a tiny change to its orbit would change its trajectory significantly.

Based on the rocket’s current orbit, the debris could fall as far north as New York, Madrid or Beijing, and as far south as southern Chile and Wellington, New Zealand, Reuters reported.

Much of the rocket is likely to burn up on re-entry, experts are concerned that some might fall back to Earth.

Although it could hit a populated area, it is far more likely that it won’t. The majority of the Earth’s surface is ocean, and much of its land is uninhabited.

The risk of the debris causing damage is “pretty small,” and it is likely they will fall into the ocean, McDowell told CNN.

But it is not null. Last time a Chinese Long March 5B rocket, similar to the one that was launched this time, reentered the atmosphere, debris reportedly landed on buildings in two villages in the Ivory Coast.

Letting debris reenter the atmosphere uncontrolled is “unacceptable,” McDowell told Space News.

“Since 1990 nothing over 10 tons has been deliberately left in orbit to reenter uncontrolled,” he said.

The core of the rocket is thought to weigh about 21 tons.

Answering a reporter’s question about the Chinese rocket on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the US is “committed to addressing the risks of growing congestion due to space debris.”

The Long March 5B rocket was carrying the first component of China’s space station, which China aims to complete by 2022.

The launch was one of 11 planned missions to build the station, Insider’s Morgan McFall-Johnsen reported on April 29.

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China is set to launch the first piece of its new space station on Wednesday night

china space station launch Long March-5B Y2 rocket
The Long March-5B Y2 rocket, carrying the core module of China’s space station Tianhe, at the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan province, April 23, 2021.

  • China is set to launch the first module of its new space station as early as Wednesday night.
  • China plans to complete its space station with 11 launches, some involving astronaut crews, by 2022.
  • The rocket launch may be broadcast live in Mandarin and English.
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China is planning to build its own space station, and it’s set to launch the first module as early as Wednesday night.

This core module, called Tianhe, or “Heavenly Harmony,” is currently tucked inside the nosecone of a Long March 5B rocket at the Wenchang Launch Center on the island of Hainan. The rocket is “designed specifically for launching space-station modules,” according to Andrew Jones, a reporter covering China’s space program.

The rocket is scheduled to lift off during a one-hour window starting at 11 p.m. ET on Wednesday – which is noon on Thursday in China.

GettyImages 1313957056
A Long March-5B Y2 rocket carrying the core module of China’s space station, at the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on April 23, 2021.

This will be the Long March 5b’s second launch – its first was a test launch of a spaceship prototype.

US policy has effectively blocked China from sending astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) and forbidden NASA from working with the nation.

China first started its independent human-spaceflight program in 1992. Three decades later, it’s beginning to build its own Earth-orbiting habitat. The country aims to complete the Chinese Space Station (CSS) by the end of 2022. Between now and then, it plans to launch 11 missions to carry three modules (including Tianhe), four cargo shipments, and four astronaut crews, according to The Associated Press.

The complete space station is set to weigh 66 tons, with enough room for three astronauts to live inside the Tianhe module. At least 12 Chinese astronauts are currently training for CSS stints, according to the AP.

The spacecraft for the first astronaut mission to the CSS is already being assembled, and the crew could launch as early as June, Jones reported for Space.com.

The overall plan for CSS calls for it to be significantly smaller than the International Space Station (ISS), which weighs about 450 tons and is roughly the length of a football field. As many as 13 people have been on the ISS at one time during mission overlaps.

Watch the Tianhe module launch live

State-controlled broadcaster CCTV may air the launch live with commentary in Mandarin. The China Global Television Network could also broadcast the launch in English on its Youtube channel, according to Jones.

china long march rocket launch tianwen-1 mars
The Long March 5 Y-4 rocket, carrying the Tianwen-1 mission to Mars, takes off from China’s Wenchang Space Launch Center, July 23, 2020.

This wouldn’t be China’s first space station. It previously sent two experimental modules into orbit: The first, Tiangong-1, launched in 2011, and its successor, Tiangong-2, followed in 2016. The two space-station prototypes hosted a handful of Chinese astronauts before Tiangong-1 was abandoned, lost its orbit, then broke apart and burned up in Earth’s atmosphere in 2018. A year later, China steered Tiangong-2 into the atmosphere to meet a similar fate.

A new space race

Russia has begun work on its own space station as well. Russian officials said last week that the country’s space agency aims to launch its core station module in 2025, and might eventually withdraw from the ISS.

Together, Russia and China are also co-developing a lunar research station, independent of NASA’s plans to build a lunar Gateway station. Both projects aim to establish a permanent human presence on the moon.

Meanwhile, on Mars, China is preparing to land a rover in a water-rich region of the red planet. The mission, called Tianwen-1, would be the first to deliver an orbiter, a lander, and a rover all together. All three robots reached Mars’ orbit in February and have been circling the planet since then. The lander and rover are poised to descend to its surface sometime in May.

If that mission succeeds, China will become the second country to successfully land on Mars.

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