“This risk can be completely avoided because technologies and mission designs are now in place that can provide controlled reentries (usually in remote areas of the ocean) rather than uncontrolled and therefore completely random reentries,” he said by email.
Holger Kraj, head of the European Space Agency’s Space Debris Office, said international best practice is to conduct a controlled reentry, targeting a distant part of the ocean, whenever the risk of casualties is too high.
He added that the return area of the missile was geographically limited between latitudes 41 degrees south and 41 degrees north of the equator.
The US Space Command said it will track the fall of the Chinese rocket to Earth, according to a spokesperson.
Depending on changing weather conditions, the exact entry point of the rocket stage into Earth’s atmosphere “can only be determined within hours of its re-entry,” the spokesperson said, but it is estimated to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere on August 1.
The 18th Space Defense Squadron, part of the US Army that tracks re-entry operations, will also provide daily updates on its location.
CNN has reached out to China’s manned space agency for comment.
Space debris weighing more than 2.2 tons is typically transported to a designated location in its first orbit around the Earth, said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
“The point is that large objects usually are not put into orbit without an active control system,” he said.
With “no active control system, no engine that could be restarted to bring it back to Earth… it rolls into orbit and eventually burns up due to friction with the atmosphere,” McDowell said. He told CNN.
Last year, China came under fire for its handling of space debris after another unit launched a similar rocket. Its remains sank in the Indian Ocean near the Maldives 10 days after launch.
“Space-faring nations should reduce the risks to people and property on Earth from re-entry of space objects and increase transparency regarding these operations,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said at the time.
Space junk like old satellites enter Earth’s atmosphere on a daily basis, although most of it goes unnoticed because it burns long before it hits Earth.
Only the largest space debris – such as spacecraft and missile parts – poses a very small risk to humans and infrastructure on Earth.
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