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Pentagon Not Planning To Shoot Down Chinese Rocket As It Hurtles Uncontrollably Toward Earth

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Thursday afternoon the U.S. currently sees no need to shoot down part of a large Chinese rocket that is about to make an uncontrolled re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere.

Article originally published by Forbes. Hargreaves Lansdown is not responsible for its content or accuracy and may not share the author's views. News and research are not personal recommendations to deal. All investments can fall in value so you could get back less than you invest.

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. AFP via Getty Images.

Topline

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Thursday afternoon the U.S. currently sees no need to shoot down part of a large Chinese rocket that is about to make an uncontrolled re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, saying he’s “hopeful” the debris will land somewhere safe.

Key Facts

Speaking at a press conference with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, Austin said the U.S. has no plans at the moment to take action against the free-falling booster that sent a Chinese rocket into space last week, though the Department of Defense does have the capability to shoot it down.

“We have the capability to do a lot of things but we don’t have a plan to shoot it down as we speak,” Austin said.

The latest estimates from the Department of Defense indicate the 22-metric-ton booster—which is currently tumbling uncontrollably through space—will land on Earth over the weekend, Austin said.

Though the Pentagon is still assessing the threat of the debris, Austin said his team is “hopeful” it won’t land in a populated area, adding: “Hopefully in the ocean or some place like that.”

Crucial Quote

Austin offered a tepid jab at the Chinese for not better controlling the rocket, which was launched last week as the first module for China’s new space station. “I think this speaks to the fact that for those of us who operate in the space domain … there should be a requirement to operate in a safe and thoughtful mode,” Austin said.

Key Background

The booster will be among the 10 largest objects to ever re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere on an uncontrolled trajectory. There have been no recorded deaths resulting from previous reentries. There is a roughly 70% chance debris will fall mainly into the ocean, The Washington Post reports, while “the odds of it affecting a populated area are miniscule.” Nonetheless, some experts have sounded the alarm, including Harvard University astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, who warned “it’s potentially not good.”

Chief Critic

“Last time they launched a Long March 5B rocket they ended up with big long rods of metal flying through the sky and damaging several buildings in the Ivory Coast,” McDowell told the Guardian. “Most of it burned up, but there were these enormous pieces of metal that hit the ground. We were very lucky no one was hurt.”

What To Watch For

The rocket booster’s trajectory can be tracked on websites like orbit.ing-now.com.


This article was written by Jemima McEvoy from Forbes and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.


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    Article originally published by Forbes. Hargreaves Lansdown is not responsible for its content or accuracy and may not share the author's views. News and research are not personal recommendations to deal. All investments can fall in value so you could get back less than you invest.

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