China Says Rocket Unlikely to Cause Damage Upon Re-Entry

A Long March 5B rocket, carrying China's Tianhe space station core module, lifts off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in southern China's Hainan province on April 29, 2021. Source: STR/AFP/Getty Images

(Bloomberg) -- A falling Chinese rocket is unlikely to cause any damage when it returns to Earth, the country’s foreign ministry said, in an attempt to counter US concerns about the spacecraft’s uncontrolled re-entry.

By Bloomberg News
May 7, 2021, 9:33 AM – Updated on May 7, 2021, 10:15 AM
Word Count: 389

Most of the rocket will burn up while passing through the atmosphere, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a briefing Friday in Beijing. The U.S. said earlier this week that the Long March 5B rocket appeared to be tumbling and would return to Earth Saturday, before landing in a yet-to-be-determined area.

“As we understand, the rocket has adopted special technical designs,” Wang said. “Most of the parts will be burned and destroyed during its re-entry to the atmosphere and it’s highly unlikely to cause any danger or harm to the aerial activities or the Earth.”

Wang declined to answer a question as to where China expects the rocket remains to fall, and said that the competent authorities would have more information in due course. The National Space Administration didn’t respond to an earlier question on the matter.

China launched the rocket in late April to deliver the first part of the country’s space station, but unlike other large launch vehicles that typically fall back to Earth in a pre-planned area, the Long March’s core stage went into orbit. Under President Xi Jinping, China is trying to become a space power on par with the U.S.

Last year, part of a Chinese rocket crashed in the West African nation of Ivory Coast after Chinese authorities seemed to have lost control, the U.S. Space Command said at the time. The incident drew a public rebuke from then-NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

Since the demise of Skylab in 1979 — the NASA space station that crashed into Western Australia — most space programs have gone to great lengths to avoid putting large rocket stages into orbit where their descent is harder to predict, said astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell from the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.

The U.S. has no plans to shoot down the Chinese rocket, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday.

(Updates with Foreign Ministry spokesman quote in third paragraph.)

–With assistance from Jing Li.

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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