There's a giant rocket booster about to fall to Earth - and no one knows where it will crash

By , KCBS Radio

In what feels like a poor subplot to a science fiction movie, an out-of-control Chinese rocket booster might be tumbling back to Earth at any moment - and no one's quite sure where or when it will land.

The core module was first launched into space last Wednesday as part of China's effort to begin building a complex new space station, as reported by SpaceNews. The rocket booster was carrying the first of 11 parts of the "Tianhe" space station, separating from its payload as expected roughly 500 seconds into the flight.

But that's where things went off course.

The "Long March 5B" rocket body, which measures 98-feet-long and 26-feet-wide, was supposed to fall back to Earth over an ocean. Instead, it inadvertently dropped into Earth’s orbit "and is likely to make an uncontrolled reentry over the next days or week."

"If so, it will be one of the largest instances of uncontrolled reentry of a spacecraft and could potentially land on an inhabited area," the publication explained.

Possible location of where the massive rocket's parts will land "is impossible to predict," but SpaceNews estimated the most likely scenario has portions of the booster that survive reentry landing in the ocean or crashing into uninhabited areas.

"I think by current standards it's unacceptable to let it reenter uncontrolled," spaceflight observer Jonathan McDowell told SpaceNews.

A similar incident in Washington State made headlines a few weeks ago.

The Long March 5B thrusters and tanks are thought to be seven times as big and weigh almost 21 metric tons when it's empty of propellent. Currently, the rocket's body "passes a little farther north than New York, Madrid and Beijing and as far south as southern Chile and Wellington, New Zealand, and could make its reentry at any point within this area."

It's not clear why the rocket didn't immediately fall back to an ocean as planned. "Tianhe" translates to "Harmony of the Heavens."

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