Is China’s space debris dangerous?

A large segment of China’s Long March 5B rocket Chinese rocket is set to plunge back through the Earth’s atmosphere, in a mission that’s being closely watched by international experts. The 21-ton rocket carried the core part of China’s future space station.

The Chinese government says most of the debris will burn up on re-entry and is very unlikely to smash into the ground. But US experts warn that potentially dangerous debris could escape incineration, and it is impossible to pinpoint where it will land until within hours of its reentry.

The Long March 5B rocket lifted off to China’s Tianhe space station core module on April 29, at the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in southern China’s Hainan province. It was the first of eleven missions needed to complete the project.

Now the rocket could become one of the largest objects ever to plunge back to Earth. It’s not uncommon for spacecraft to fall back to Earth – sometimes even causing damage. But the sheer size of this one is keeping the international space community on alert.