All eyes on out of control 18-tonne Chinese rocket as it falls to Earth tonight

Debris from a Chinese space rocket is set to crash land on Earth in a fiery uncontrolled re-entry early on Sunday morning.

The main segment from the Long March-5b vehicle weighs 18 tonnes but poses a very small chance of hurting someone as it'll burn up on it way down.

Experts have been narrowing down when and where it could land back on Earth since China lost control of it in space.

The problem is fiendish due to how fast the rocket is moving around our planet, with the latest estimates saying it could drop anytime between 9.52pm and 9.52am on Sunday morning, UK time.

The rocket was used to launch the first module of China's new space station last month.

It is one of the largest items in decades to have an undirected dive into the atmosphere.

The US on Thursday said it was watching the path of the object but currently had no plans to shoot it down.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said: "We're hopeful that it will land in a place where it won't harm anyone.

"Hopefully in the ocean, or someplace like that."

Estimates for where and when the rocket will hit vary widely and China has been accused of "negligence" for losing control of another space rocket.

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Jonathan McDowell from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, US, told BBC News: "It is indeed seen as negligence.

"This is the second launch of this rocket; the debris in Ivory Coast last year was from the previous launch, i.e. a basically identical rocket.

"These two incidents [the one now and the Ivory Coast one] are the two largest objects deliberately left to re-enter uncontrolled since Skylab in 1979."

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Fragments of the US space station Skylab scattered across Western Australia in 1979, attracting worldwide attention.

The Long March-5b is moving at incredible speeds in an elliptical orbit around the planet while slowing down due to drag in the air.

Its orbit only goes over certain areas of the globe too.

So the potential fall zone can be limited to 41.5 degrees north or south from the equator – meaning Britain is safe.

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Dr Hugh Lewis, who models space debris at Southampton University, UK, tweeted: "It's worth remembering that there are approximately 900 orbital rocket stages in low-Earth orbit, left behind by nearly every launch-capable nation and with a combined mass orders or magnitude greater than the one expected to re-enter the atmosphere this [weekend]."

Chinese media has played down Western reports about the potential hazards as "hype" saying the debris will likely fall somewhere in international waters.

The Global Times quoted aerospace expert Song Zhongping added that China's space monitoring network would keep a close watch and take necessary measures should damage occur.

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