Officials in the United States and Europe are on alert for the potential impact of an out-of-control Chinese rocket this evening.The Aerospace Corporation has narrowed down the area under the path of the tumbling, rocket, with impacts possible across the eastern or southeastern U.S., northern and eastern Africa, the Middle East, or portions of Europe including Spain and Italy. For now, the Aerospace Corporation believes the most probably point of atmospheric re-entry will be in the Atlantic Ocean half way between the U.S. and Europe, but cautions their outlook could be off by thousands of miles.
A massive out-of-control rocket launched by China on April 29 continues to tumble towards Earth at 17,300 mph and it could take another hour or two for the 23-ton rocket, or what’s left of it, to reach the Earth’s surface after re-entering the atmosphere. Experts still aren’t certain where it will go and likely won’t until an hour or two prior to impact. China, the White House, and the Pentagon have all commented on the situation.
Wang Wenbin, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for China and the Deputy Director of the Foreign Ministry Information Department, said “As a matter of principle, I would like to reiterate that China is always committed to the peaceful use of outer space and stands for international cooperation in this regard. China is ready to work with all relevant parties to make join efforts for the peaceful use of outer space and safeguarding space security.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters yesterday that the U.S. doesn’t “have a plan to shoot the rocket down”, adding that they’re hopeful that the rocket will “land in a place where it won’t harm anyone.”
“The United States is committed to addressing the risks of growing congestion due to space debris and growing activity in space and we want to work with the international community to promote leadership and responsible space behaviors,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a news briefing on Wednesday.
Psaki said that, if damage occurs from the Long March 5B debris, the White House will consult with U.S. Space Command and the Department of Defense for advice. But she didn’t elaborate on what would happen next.
“At this point, we are certainly tracking its location through U.S. Space Command,” Psaki said. “Hopefully, that’s not the outcome that we are working through.”
In the 1970s, the United Nations negotiated an agreement among member nations that makes a launching State liable to pay compensation for damage caused by its space objects on the surface of the Earth or to aircraft; it also makes the launching State liable for damage due to its faults in space.
The US Department of Defense said in a statement that US Space Command was tracking the rocket’s location in space and that the 18th Space Control Squadron in California was specifically tasked with tracking the out-of-control rocket.
“All debris can be potential threats to spaceflight safety and the space domain,” the Pentagon said.
The 18th Space Control Squadron is based at Vandenberg Air Force Base, which is due to be renamed to Vandenberg Space Force Base in the coming weeks. The squadron is tasked with providing 24/7 support to the space surveillance network, maintaining the space catalog, and managing United States Space Command’s space situational awareness sharing program to United States, foreign governments, and commercial entities.
The Aerospace Corporation is one entity tracking the out-of-control rocket. Last year, Aerospace Corporation tracked the falling rocket, providing updates to its forecast up until impact time. In March of 2018, Aerospace also tracked a falling Chinese space station. It eventually crashed into the ocean. The Aerospace Corporation performs objective technical analyses and assessments for a variety of government, civil, and commercial customers; it is an independent, non-profit corporation operating within the space industry.