China Says 'Vast Majority' of Rocket Will Burn Up on Re-Entry, Low Threat to People

China said that the "vast majority" of its Long March 5B rocket that launched the core module of the country's first permanent space center will burn up upon re-entry back to Earth and poses a low threat to people.

The rocket carried China's core space station module named Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony, into orbit on April 29.

"As far as I understand, this type of rocket adopts a special technical design, and the vast majority of the devices will be burnt up and destructed during the re-entry process, which has a very low probability of causing harm to aviation activities and the ground," China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said during a briefing.

So far, China's space agency has not unveiled whether the main stage of the enormous rocket is being controlled. If not, it will make an out-of-control descent.

The U.S. Defense Department expects the rocket will make its re-entry and return to Earth Saturday. The Pentagon said Tuesday it cannot be determined where it will hit until hours of its re-entry.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

China's Long March 5B Rocket
A Long March 5B rocket, carrying China's Tianhe space station core module, lifts off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in southern China's Hainan province on April 29, 2021. STR/AFP via Getty Images

Wang said Chinese authorities will release information about the re-entry of the rocket in a "timely manner."

Usually, discarded rocket stages re-enter the atmosphere soon after liftoff, normally over water, and don't go into orbit.

Last May, another Chinese rocket fell uncontrolled into the Atlantic Ocean off West Africa.

The Communist Party newspaper Global Times said the stage's "thin-skinned" aluminum-alloy exterior will easily burn up in the atmosphere, posing an extremely remote risk to people.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a Wednesday briefing that the U.S. Space Command was "aware of and tracking the location" of the Chinese rocket.

The nonprofit Aerospace Corp. expects the debris to hit the Pacific near the Equator after passing over eastern U.S. cities. Its orbit covers a swath of the planet from New Zealand to Newfoundland.

China plans 10 more launches to carry additional parts of the space station into orbit.

The roughly 30-meter (100-foot) -long stage would be among the biggest space debris to fall to Earth.

The 18-ton rocket that fell last May was the heaviest debris to fall uncontrolled since the former Soviet space station Salyut 7 in 1991.

China's first space station, Tiangong-1, crashed into the Pacific Ocean in 2016 after Beijing confirmed it had lost control. In 2019, the space agency controlled the demolition of its second station, Tiangong-2, in the atmosphere.

In March, debris from a Falcon 9 rocket launched by U.S. aeronautics company SpaceX fell to Earth in Washington and on the Oregon coast.

China Space Goals
A Long March-5 rocket carrying the Chang'e 5 lunar mission lifts off at the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Wenchang in southern China's Hainan province, early Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. China's trip to the moon and, presumably, back is the latest milestone in the Asian powerhouse's slow but steady ascent to the stars. Mark Schiefelbein/AP Photo