China's Long March 5B rocket debris expected to crash back to Earth today, tracking centres say

Remnants of China's largest rocket, which was launched last week, are expected to plunge back through the atmosphere today, according to European and UStracking centres, APA reports.

China's foreign ministry said on Friday that most debris from the rocket will burn on re-entry and is highly unlikely to cause any harm, after the USmilitary said that what it called an uncontrolled re-entry was being tracked by USSpace Command.

EU Space Surveillance and Tracking (EU SST) said its latest prediction for the timing of the re-entry of the Long March 5B rocket body was 139 minutes either side of 2:32am GMT (12:32pm AEST) on Sunday.

The USSpace Command estimated re-entry would occur at 2:11am GMT (12:11pm AEST) on Sunday, plus or minus one hour, while the Center for Orbital Reentry and Debris Studies (CORDS) at Aerospace Corporation, a USfederally funded space-focused research and development centre, updated its prediction to two hours either side of 3:02am GMT (1:02pm AEST) on Sunday.

EU SST said on its website that the statistical probability of a ground impact in a populated area was "low", but noted that the uncontrolled nature of the object made any predictions uncertain.

Space-Track, reporting data collected by USSpace Command, estimated the debris would make reentry over the Mediterranean Basin.

Travelling at a speed of about7.7 kilometresper second, a difference of just one minute in the time of reentry translates to hundreds of kilometres difference on the ground.

"This is difficult to predict and not an exact measurement," Space-Track wrote on Twitter.

Chinese rocket debris not uncommon

The Long March 5B — comprising one core stage and four boosters — lifted off from China's Hainan island on April 29 with the unmanned Tianhe module, which contains 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.

Long March 5 rockets have been integral to China's near-term space ambitions — from the delivery of modules and crew of its planned space station to launches of exploratory probes to the Moon and even Mars.