Chinese rocket debris expected to reenter atmosphere on Sunday morning

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – The remains of a Chinese rocket sent into space last week are expected to enter Earth’s atmosphere on Saturday evening or Sunday morning, a U.S. space research center said on Friday.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Friday that most of the debris from the Long March 5B rocket, the largest ever built by China, would burn off when it returned to the atmosphere and was unlikely to cause the slightest damage.

The US military had previously said it was monitoring what it called the uncontrolled return of this rocket, estimated at 18 tons, to Earth.

In a message sent to Twitter on Friday evening, the Aerospace Corporation said its Center for Studies for Debris and Orbital Re-entry (CORDS) expected the Long March rocket to return to the atmosphere within a range of 4 p.m. around 04:19 GMT Sunday (06:19 in France).

This return should take place near the North Island of New Zealand, according to CORDS, which nevertheless points out that it could occur along a trajectory covering large areas of the earth.

The Long March 5B rocket took off on April 29 from the Chinese island of Hainan. This launcher carried into space the uninhabited Tianhe module comprising what is destined to become living spaces of a permanent Chinese space station.

(French version Bertrand Boucey)

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