US refuses to shoot down ‘out of control’ 21-ton Chinese rocket falling to Earth – with crash due TOMORROW

THE US has no plans to shoot down a huge Chinese rocket plummeting to Earth, according to a top Pentagon official.

The 21-ton booster launched part of China’s first space station last week and is expected to crash into our planet over the weekend.

“We have the capability to do a lot of things, but we don’t have a plan to shoot it down as we speak,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters on Thursday.

The Pentagon experts expect the body of the Long March 5B rocket to fall sometime on Saturday or Sunday.

Figuring out exactly when and where it will crash is proving difficult.

“We’re hopeful that it will land in a place where it won’t harm anyone. Hopefully in the ocean, or someplace like that,” Austin said.

The Long March 5B rocket launched last week

The Long March 5B rocket launched last weekCredit: Reuters

China has previously been criticised for letting its ejected rocket parts fall from entry, rather than steering them to a safe crash zone.

Austin suggested that space agencies should be required to push their rockets into a safe deorbit following launches.

“I think this speaks to the fact that, for those of us who operate in the space domain, there’s a requirement, or should be a requirement to operate in a safe and thoughtful mode,” said Austin.

There is a need to “make sure that we take those kinds of things into consideration as we plan and conduct operations” in space, he said.

Experts warned earlier this week that the debris from the rocket crash could hit an inhabited area.

The location of the impact “cannot be pinpointed until within hours of its re-entry”, the Pentagon said Wednesday.

The giant rocket was taking the first module of China's new space station

The giant rocket was taking the first module of China’s new space stationCredit: Getty

However, it will most likely hit the Pacific Ocean near the equator after passing over eastern US cities, according to the US Space Command.

At roughly 30 metres (100ft) long, the booster stage would be among the biggest pieces of space debris ever to fall back to Earth.

China on April 29 launched the first of three elements for its station atop the Long March 5B rocket that is now being tracked.

The body of the rocket “is almost intact coming down,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday.

After its separation from the space station module, the rocket began to orbit the Earth in an irregular trajectory as it slowly lost altitude.

The rocket lifted off from from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre in southern China's Hainan province on April 29

The rocket lifted off from from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre in southern China’s Hainan province on April 29Credit: AFP

That makes any predictions about where it will re-enter the atmosphere or fall back to the ground nearly impossible.

It could end up breaking apart upon entry, with only smaller debris bits falling to Earth.

Even if the rocket falls from the sky mostly intact, there is a good chance it will splash down into the ocean, which covers 70 per cent of Earth’s surface.

But neither of those outcomes is certain, and there is a chance the rocket could crash land into an inhabited area or onto a ship.

Astronauts will live in the Tian He module

Astronauts will live in the Tian He moduleCredit: Getty

In May 2020, another Long March 5B rocket slammed through the atmosphere, partially burning up on its descent.

The core fell largely into the Atlantic Ocean, but some debris landed in West Africa.

According to the South China Morning Post, some chunks of debris crashed into inhabited villages in the Ivory Coast, though no injuries were reported.

The module that the rocket was delivering, named Tian He, will become become living quarters for three crew members.

China aims to complete its Chinese Space Station, known as Tiangong by the end of 2022, state media reported, after several further modules are launched.

Science facts

Want to know more about the weird and wonderful world of science? From space and astronomy to the human body, we have you covered…

China launches key module for space station at Wenchang launch site

In other news, SpaceX on Wednesday successfully launched and landed a prototype Starship rocket for the first time.

ESA researchers think they’ve spotted an angel on Mars.

And a satellite that can look inside buildings at any time of day has been launched.

What do you make of China’s rocket drama? Let us know in the comments!

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