China’s out-of-control rocket set to crash on July 31

La Longue Marche 5B shortly before its launch on July 24, 2022.

La Longue Marche 5B shortly before its launch on July 24, 2022.
Photo: Liu Huaiyu (PA)

Experts predict the gigantic core stage of a recently launched Long March 5B rocket will crash to Earth within days, but the precise location remains impossible to guess.

The Long March 5B rocket took off on July 24 from Wenchang Space Launch Site in Hainan. The rocket successfully delivered the Wentian laboratory in low earth orbit, where it docked with China’s Tiangong space station about 13 hours later.

Like previous Long March 5B launches, however, the main stage – which lacks controlled re-entry provisions – entered a Earth orbit, and rapidly deteriorating. The 25-tonne (22.5 metric ton) center stage, designated CZ-5B, is now on the verge of an uncontrolled re-entry.

Experts from the Center for Orbital Reentry and Debris Studies (CORDS) of The Aerospace Corporation calculated a probability arrival date of this capricious rocket body. They analyzed data from the US Space Force Space Surveillance Network to devise the estimate, which suggests the rocket will return to Earth on July 31 at 7:52 UTC (3:52 a.m. ET), with an error bar of plus-minus 22 hours.

“To track and predict re-entries, our team uses public datasets that are generated when a tracked object passes over an array of sensors across the planet,” explained Marlon Sorge, Technical Member and Executive Director. from CORDS of The Aerospace Corporation. me in an email.

The Space Surveillance Network tracks objects in space using radar and optical sensors at several locations around the planet. These sensors “observe and track objects larger than a softball in low Earth orbits and objects the size of a basketball or larger in higher geosynchronous orbits,” Sorge said. “Sensors can determine what orbit objects are in, and this information is used to predict close approaches, re-entries and the likelihood of a collision.

The expected geographic range remains excessively high, with the rocket body potentially re-entering somewhere between 41 degrees north latitude and 41 degrees south latitude. “It is still too early to determine a significant debris footprint,” the company said in a statement. Tweeter. The Aerospace Company will update its tracking page as the estimate refines over time.

“Due to the uncontrolled nature of its descent, there is a non-zero probability that surviving debris will land in a populated area – more than 88% of the world’s population lives under the potential footprint of re-entry debris,” according to a report. aerospace company. statement. The company claims that objects of this size do not burn up in the atmosphere. and that generally 20% to 40% of the total mass of a large object will reach the ground, depending on the object.

Normally, the main stages do not reach orbit and instead are guided into the ocean or over sparsely populated areas. In the case of SpaceX’s reusable Falcon 9 rocket, the first stages perform controlled vertical landings on the surface or on drones.

This will be the third time the center stage of a Long March 5B has entered orbit after launch and fallen back to Earth uncontrollably, so this trait appears to be a feature of the rocket rather than a bug. Two years ago, debris from an out-of-control middle floor fell on a populated area along the west coast of Africawhile debris from a Long March 5B launched last year crashed in the Indian Ocean near the Maldives. In both cases, no one was hurt, but scientists have recently raised concerns that with all the rockets launched these days, someone could possibly be seriously injured or even killed.

“Space nations must minimize the risks to people and property on Earth from space object re-entries and maximize transparency regarding these operations,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told an agency. statement following the 2021 incident. “It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding its space debris. It is essential that China and all space nations and commercial entities act responsibly and transparently in space to ensure the safety, stability, security and long-term sustainability of space activities.

China plans to launch its Mengtian space station module this October, which means we can start all over again in just three months.

After: Russia says it will leave the ISS after 2024.

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