China said on Friday the risk of damage from a rocket falling to Earth was “extremely low” after the United States warned it could crash into a populated area.
U.S. military experts expect the body of the Long March 5B rocket, which separated from the Beijing space station, to fall sometime on Saturday or Sunday, but they warned it was difficult to predict where it would land and when.
But Beijing played down the risk of danger. “The probability of harming air or ground activities is extremely low,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said.
Most of the rocket’s components would likely be destroyed when it returned to the atmosphere, he added, saying authorities “will inform the public of the situation in due course.”
China has invested billions of dollars in space exploration to reflect its growing global stature and growing technological power, following in the extraterrestrial footsteps of the United States, Russia and Europe.
“Shoot him down”?
As feverish speculation about the rocket’s return path to Earth surfaced on social media, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said on Thursday that the US military had no plans to to win against her.
“We have the capacity to do a lot of things, but we don’t have a plan to take it down,” Austin told reporters.
Hopefully, he said, the rocket will land “in a place where it won’t harm anyone … the ocean, or somewhere like that.”
Even if the rocket or parts of it fall from the sky, without breaking on re-entry, there’s a good chance it will just splash in the ocean on a planet that’s 70% water.
But Austin suggested the Chinese were negligent in letting the rocket body fall out of orbit, saying those in the “space realm” should “operate in a safe and thoughtful manner.”
The location of the rocket’s descent into Earth’s atmosphere as it descends from space “can only be identified hours after reentry,” which is expected to occur around May 8, US Space said. Command.
Harvard-based astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell said there was a chance pieces of the rocket could fall over the ground, as in May 2020, when pieces from another Chinese Long March 5B rocket rained over Côte d’Ivoire, damaging several buildings.
He said potentially dangerous debris would likely escape incineration after passing through the atmosphere at hypersonic speed but, in all likelihood, fall into the sea.
Based on its current orbit, the debris track is likely to fall somewhere as far north as New York, Madrid or Beijing and as far south as southern Chile and Wellington, New Zealand, or n ‘ no matter where in between, McDowell said.
“ Nation of science ”
Space has become the last scene of the great power game between China and the United States.
The launch of China’s first module of its “Heavenly Palace” space station in April – housing life-saving equipment and living space for astronauts – marked a milestone in Beijing’s ambitious plan to establish a permanent human presence in space.
President Xi Jinping called it a key step in “building a great nation of science and technology.”
With the withdrawal of the International Space Station after 2024, China could become the only space station in Earth orbit.
Although the Chinese space authorities have declared themselves open to foreign collaboration, the scope of this cooperation is not yet clear.
The European Space Agency has sent astronauts to China for training to be ready to work inside the Chinese space station once it is launched.
China also said in March that it plans to build a separate lunar space station with Russia.
The facility, slated for the surface or in the orbit of the Moon, would house experimental research facilities and would be Beijing’s largest international space cooperation project to date.
The Long March rocket is not the first time that China has lost control of a spacecraft upon its return to Earth.
The Tiangong-1 space laboratory disintegrated when it re-entered the atmosphere in 2018, two years after it ceased to function, although Chinese authorities have denied losing control of the ship.