A Chinese rocket fragment falls back to earth uncontrolled – and scientists don’t know where it will end up.
Debris from the giant booster could reach our planet early next week, according to the US Space Command, which is tracking its trajectory.
It has raised concerns that the garbage could hit a city on its fiery return, although the chances of that happening are slim.
The 20-ton core stage was jettisoned during a mission to deliver a new module to China’s space station.
It’s the third time in as many years that the country’s space agency has allowed a potentially fatal uncontrolled descent.
The 23-ton Long March 5B rocket carrying the Wentian laboratory module took off from Hainan Island on Sunday.
The module successfully docked with China’s orbital outpost on Monday.
After separating from the station, the rocket began to orbit the Earth in an erratic trajectory while slowly losing altitude.
That makes predictions about where it will re-enter the atmosphere or fall back to the ground nearly impossible.
It could break apart on entry, leaving only smaller pieces of debris to reach Earth.
Even if the rocket falls out of the sky mostly unscathed, there’s a good chance it will crash into the ocean that covers 70 percent of the Earth’s surface.
Scientists will only have a clear idea of where the booster will land a few hours after re-entry.
“Unfortunately, we cannot predict when and where [it will impact]said Dr. Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who is tracking the object gizmodo.
“A rocket stage this large should not be left in orbit to make an uncontrolled re-entry; the risk to the public is not huge, but it is greater than I can imagine.”
Launches performed by Nasa, SpaceX and Russia’s Roscosmos dispose of their rocket upper stages through controlled re-entry.
The garbage will be vented into Earth’s atmosphere to ensure it decays over an uninhabited, remote region of the Pacific Ocean.
However, China’s giant Long March 5B rocket is unable to perform controlled re-entry – a process that requires the booster to restart its engines after completing its main mission.
It is believed that later models being developed by China’s National Space Agency will allow controlled re-entry.
Until then, Beijing will continue to let rocket parts the size of three fire trucks stacked in a row drift back to Earth.
dr McDowell said that American launch vehicles “on average do a slightly better job at disposal of the upper stage, and China on average do a worse job.”
The probability of debris hitting a human is about one in a billion. For comparison, the chance of someone being struck by lightning in their lifetime is one in 12,000.
It’s not the first time China has dropped one of its missiles back onto our planet.
In May 2021, a 21-ton piece of a Long March 5b crashed in the Indian Ocean.
At approximately 30 meters (100 feet) long, the booster stage was among the largest pieces of artificial debris to have fallen from space.
Scientists initially feared the garbage heap was destined for explosive re-entry via cities like New York and Madrid.
In September 2020, a Chinese rocket booster exploded after landing in a city in the country’s Shaanxi province.
And in May of this year, another Long March 5B rocket sped through the atmosphere, partially burning up on its descent.
Fortunately, most of the debris from the disintegrating booster fell into the Atlantic – although some ended up in West Africa.
Pieces of metal rained down on populated villages in Ivory Coast, according to the South China Morning Post, although no injuries were reported.
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https://www.thesun.ie/tech/9162593/chinese-rocket-crashing-earth-no-one-knows-land/ A huge 20-ton Chinese rocket falls back to earth and no one knows where it will end up