No plan to shoot down Chinese rocket, says Pentagon chief

Washington: US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Thursday (Friday AEST) there was no plan at this point to shoot down the remnants of a large Chinese rocket expected to plunge back through the atmosphere this weekend.

The Long March 5B rocket blasted off from China’s Hainan island on April 29, carrying the Tianhe module, which contains what will become living quarters for three crew members on a permanent Chinese space station.

The Tianhe launch was the first of 11 missions needed to complete the station.

A Long March 5B rocket carrying a module for a Chinese space station lifts off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site.Credit:AP

Speaking with reporters, Austin said the hope was the rocket would land in the ocean and that the latest estimate was that it would come down between Saturday and Sunday.

The Global Times, a Chinese tabloid published by the official People’s Daily, characterised reports that the rocket is “out of control” and could cause damage as “Western hype.”

The situation is “not worth panicking about,” it said, citing industry insiders.

The US said it is committed to addressing the risks of congestion due to space debris and wants to work with the international community “to promote leadership and responsible space behaviours.”

The chair of a House subcommittee that oversees US space programs said China should be responsible for warning and protecting people in the path of its falling rocket.

“The Chinese Communist Party has repeatedly shown a blatant disregard for space safety, this time by not even predicting where the Long March 5 rocket body could land, much less helping those below,” Jim Cooper, a Tennessee Democrat, said in an emailed statement.

Cooper helped lead a joint hearing on Wednesday between two US House subcommittees about what kinds of international agreements could help regulate behaviour in space.

Lawmakers discussed how the US can prevent further militarisation and accumulation of debris as more countries and companies engage in space exploration.

China’s Long March 5 rocket has become a case study in space policy as it tumbles toward Earth.

Reuters, Bloomberg

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