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Can US shoot down 'out of control' Chinese rocket?

The roughly 100-foot-long rocket stage would be among the biggest space debris to fall to Earth.

The Pentagon reportedly says it has no plans to shoot down a China-launched rocket that is descending toward Earth, apparently out of control and with no clear indication as to where it might impact.

“We have the capability to do a lot of things but we don’t have a plan to shoot it down as we speak,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters Thursday, Forbes reported.

The Long March 5B rocket carried the main module of Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony, into orbit on April 29. China plans 10 more launches to carry additional parts of the space station into orbit.

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

The newspaper Global Times, published by the Chinese Communist Party, has said any talk that the rocket is coming down "out of control" is "Western Hype," Reuters reports. It previously reported that the stage's “thin-skinned” aluminum-alloy exterior will easily burn up in the atmosphere, posing an extremely remote risk to people. 

Where the rocket will hit "cannot be pinpointed until within hours of its reentry,” the Pentagon said in a statement Tuesday.

Austin said it's hoped the rocket will land in the ocean, Reuters reported. It's believed the rocket will come down sometime this weekend.

The nonprofit Aerospace Corp. said Wednesday it 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.

Last May, another Chinese rocket fell uncontrolled into the Atlantic Ocean off West Africa. The 18-ton rocket 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.