United States has no plan to shoot down Chinese rocket

The Long March 5B rocket lifts off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on April 29

Oh, and Utah is in the reentry path for the falling rocket debris. It could strike an inhabited area, experts warn.

The current and predicted trajectory for the orbiting Long March 5B rocket - referred to as 2021-035B by the US Military - can be followed on several websites, including orbit.ing-now.com and Aerospace.

On Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the country's military now has no plan "to shoot the rocket down". Get all the news you need in your inbox each morning.

The rocket, called Long March 5B, was launched from Wenchang Space Launch Centre on 29 April to carry Tianhe - the first module of China's future space station - into orbit.

Though the rocket appears as a speck in the image, China's Long March 5B rocket core is 98 feet (30 meters) tall.

The largest section of the rocket that launched the main module of China's first permanent space station into orbit is expected to plunge back to Earth as early as Saturday at an unknown location. It lifted off last month carrying the core module of the station.

Yes, and "it's potentially not good", Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Astrophysics Center at Harvard University, told the Guardian.

Usually, discarded rocket stages re-enter the atmosphere soon after liftoff, normally over water, and don't go into orbit.

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Shortly afterward, SpaceNews reported that the 21-ton rocket was set to make one of the largest uncontrolled re-entries of a space object in history - for reference, the largest-ever uncontrolled re-entry was made by NASA's 100-ton Skylab space station in 1979.

On Friday, the Chinese government reassured the world that the rocket debris will mostly burn up on reentry, posing little threat to people and property on the ground. The problem is, that as of Thursday, no one seems to know. McDowell told CNN that pinpointing where debris could be headed is nearly impossible because of the speed the rocket is traveling - even slight changes in circumstance drastically change the trajectory.

"Much of the earth is covered in water, so there's nearly no risk" to the public, said Dan Oltrogge, founder of the Space Safety Coalition and top policy expert at the Commercial Space Operations Center, a firm that helps companies track space traffic.

The non-profit Aerospace Corp. expects the debris to hit the Pacific near the equator after passing over eastern US cities. Its orbit covers a swath of the planet from New Zealand to Newfoundland.

The rocket is now in a low orbit, which means it circles around the Earth but is still gradually pulled down. Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said Wednesday the entire body of the rocket is "almost intact". The parts that don't burn up completely will remain and fall to Earth. A Chinese expert stated that the rocket's homecoming is a "fully-controlled" process and not a cause for worry.

The rocket that fell last May was the heaviest debris to fall uncontrolled since the former Soviet space station Salyut 7 in 1991.

Beijing's space agency has lost control of the rocket, violating worldwide standards that rockets return to earth in a controlled manner. The space laboratory Tiangong-1 disintegrated upon re-entry into the atmosphere in 2018, two years after it had stopped working, though Chinese authorities denied they had lost control of the ship.

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