CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY/NEXSTAR) — A massive Chinese booster rocket is set to crash down on Saturday, analysts say, but is there a chance that it could land in the United States?
Considering the size of the 23-ton booster, experts with The Aerospace Corporation say, the object will not burn up completely upon reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere, and they expect 20-40 percent of the wreckage to hit the ground.
The Aerospace Corporation is a nonprofit analysis group that works for “a variety of government, civil and commercial customers,” according to the nonprofit’s website.
There is a “non-zero chance” that debris will land in a populated area, although the chances of that are very small and it’s too early to speculate about where that might happen.
While the risk of a person being struck by debris in this instance is roughly 1 per 100 billion (getting struck by lightning is 80,000 times more likely), according to the Aerospace Corporation, it is ten times greater than commonly accepted thresholds. The nonprofit emphasized that existing technology could have been used to avoid this situation.
The booster rocket follows the reentry earlier this week of a Chinese cargo spacecraft that serviced the country’s permanent orbiting space station. That craft has largely burned up on reentering the atmosphere, and now concerns remain over China’s decision to allow a massive booster rocket to fall to Earth uncontrolled.
Only small parts of the Tianzhou-3 ship survived to fall safely Wednesday into a predetermined area of the South Pacific, the China Manned Space Agency said.
Emily Calandrelli, scientist and host of Netflix show “Emily’s Wonder Lab,” has been posting updates on her social media accounts since July 23, the day before the rocket was first launched. Her updates are based on Aerospace Corporation predictions.
According to Aerospace, the rocket body was first launched from the Wenchange Space Launch Site in China at 6:22 Coordinated Universal Time (12:22 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time) on July 24.
As the estimated crash time gets closer, scientists have been able to narrow down where the rocket body might land. As of Friday at noon, they had it narrowed down to a crash time window of 12 hours and eight possible routes across the world. Three of those routes passed over the United States.
As of Friday at 6:40 p.m. EST, the estimated landing time for the rocket was 2:16 p.m. EST Saturday, plus or minus five hours. It’s still too early to predict the potential crash site, according to Aerospace.
In 2020, debris from another Chinese rocket crashed down on Earth, landing in Africa’s Ivory Coast.
China’s space program is run by the ruling Communist Party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army, and has largely proceeded with the space station program without other nations’ assistance. The U.S. excluded China from the International Space Station because of its military ties.
China decided not to guide the booster back through the atmosphere and it’s not clear exactly when or where it will come down to Earth. While it will largely burn up on return, there remains a slight risk of fragments causing damage or casualties.
While China is not alone in such practices, the size of the Long March rocket stage has drawn particular scrutiny.
For the latest updates on the rocket’s reentry and landing, check The Aerospace Corporation website, which is being updated regularly.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.