US aerospace scientists are tracking a massive Chinese rocket as it reenters Earth’s atmosphere but say it’s extremely unlikely that it will crash down on a populated area. The scientists point out that rocket debris is far more likely to hit water than land.
Still, it remains unclear what US defense officials would do if the 22-metric-ton spacecraft were headed for a populated region.
The booster rocket is among the 10 largest objects ever to haphazardly reenter Earth’s atmosphere without a clear landing spot. No humans have ever been killed by reentering space debris. However, a cow in Cuba was killed in 1961 by a metal fragment that fell from the sky.
Pentagon scientists don’t know where or when the rocket will crash land, but they point to a 42-hour window centered on Saturday night. Despite the craft’s massive bulk, US officials said it’s unknown how much of the rocket would hit the Earth’s surface because they don’t know its size, shape, or how much would melt when reentering the atmosphere.
The situation has caused rising tensions between the US and China, which are competitive in space exploration. China launched the rocket in late April as the first module of a space station the country is assembling in orbit.