Expert predicts limited damage from Chinese rocket

Remnants of a gigantic Chinese rocket are set to plummet somewhere on Earth late Saturday or early Sunday.

But Ted Muelhaupt, Principal Director of the Center For Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies (Cords) at The Aerospace Corporation, says you probably don't need to worry.

"It's the size of well, think of an unloaded semi truck. It's about 30 meters long. It weighs about twenty two metric tons. And that's going to have a lot of material survive. About nine tons, we estimate, will survive. And of that, that that's kind of equivalent to dropping three pickup trucks on somebody's head or crashing a small airplane. Now, it won't all come down in one piece... But most people, you're going to be fine. You know, I usually use this as the like winning the lottery. The odds that that you will win the lottery tonight are really low. I'll bet my paycheck you will not win the lottery. I won't make the bet that no one will win the lottery. That's a different bet."

China's foreign ministry said on Friday that most debris from the rocket - China's largest, which launched last week - will burn on re-entry and is highly unlikely to cause any harm, after the U.S. military said that what it called an uncontrolled re-entry was being tracked by U.S. Space Command.

Muelhaupt said there's some head-scratching as to why China once again is letting tons of space debris come crashing down - somewhere - on Earth.

"This is the second largest uncontrolled reentry in the last well, the last couple of decades. The previous one was the previous version of this launch last May, and that one rained pieces down in eastern Africa and did some damage, actually didn't injure anyone that I know about... There was enough reaction to the last one last May that most people thought they would have learned their lesson and not done it again, and but apparently they have. So, you know, they are two for two with this particular design. So, the question that people have asked is, did they not plan for this? And if not, why not? But the Chinese haven't said."

Space-Track, reporting data collected by U.S. Space Command, has estimated the debris will land in the North Atlantic Ocean, but said on Twitter on Saturday that reentry location estimates were largely uncertain.

The Long March 5B - comprising one core stage and four boosters - lifted off from China's Hainan island on April 29 with an unmanned module containing what will become living quarters on a permanent Chinese space station. The rocket is set to be followed by 10 more missions to complete the station.

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