The latest piece of large Chinese space junk will fall back to Earth later this month, experts predict.
The object in question is the approximately 25-tonne (22.5 metric ton) core stage of the Long March 5B rocket which, on Sunday July 24, launched to orbit the second module for chinese under construction Tiangong Space Station.
The rocket body will likely remain aloft for about a week, according to researchers at The Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Orbital Reentry and Debris Studies (CORDS). They analyzed tracking data collected by the United States space force Space Surveillance Network and predict that the rocket body will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere around 3:30 a.m. EDT (0730 GMT) on July 31, plus or minus 10 p.m.
Related: The biggest spacecraft that fell out of space without control
Our latest prediction for #CZ5B rocket body reentry is: 🚀 July 31, 2022 07:34 UTC ± 22 hours Reentry will occur along one of the ground paths shown here. It is still too early to determine a significant debris footprint. Follow this page for updates: https://t.co/SxrMtcJnj0 pic.twitter.com/MwWiF85iPIJuly 26, 2022
This forecast will be updated and refined over time. It’s too early to predict where the Chinese rocket will fall, CORDS researchers pointed out (opens in a new tab). Based on its orbit, however, we know reentry will occur somewhere between 41 degrees north latitude and 41 degrees south latitude. And the whole object will not burn in the earth’s air.
“The general rule of thumb is that 20-40% of a large object’s mass will hit the ground, but the exact number depends on the design of the object,” The Aerospace Corporation wrote in a statement. explainer on the impending fall of the rocket (opens in a new tab). “In this case, we would expect around five to nine metric tons [5.5 to 9.9 tons].”
The main stages of most orbital-class rockets are designed to descend shortly after liftoff, steered safely into the sea or onto sparsely populated sections of dry land – or to perform powered vertical landings to enable reuse , like SpaceX. Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy first stages do. But the Long March 5B core reaches orbit with its payload, causing an uncontrolled crash into Earth, caused by atmospheric drag, in the not-too-distant future.
We have seen such undirected dives on the previous two Long March 5B missions. (The rocket has now flown a total of three missions.) The rocket made its debut on May 5, 2020. About a week later, a Long March 5B body fell uncontrollably off the west coast of Africa. , apparently spilling debris (opens in a new tab) in the country of Ivory Coast. The second Long March 5B re-entered over the Indian Ocean in May 202110 days after the launch of the main module of Tiangong, known as Tianhe.
Additionally, Tiangong 1, a prototype space lab that helped pave the way for the Tiangong space station, crashed to Earth above the Pacific Ocean. in April 2018.
None of these incidents resulted in any reported injuries. But the potential for injuries and damage to infrastructure on the ground has prompted exploration experts to blame China for allowing such space debris falls to occur.
“Space nations must minimize the risks to people and property on Earth from space object reentries and maximize transparency regarding these operations,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. written in a statement (opens in a new tab) posted shortly before Tianhe’s Long March 5B body drop last year.
“It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding its space debris,” Nelson added. “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.”
The Tiangong space station will eventually consist of three modules. China is expected to launch the third and final module on a 5B Long March this fall.
Mike Wall is the author of “The low (opens in a new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in a new tab). Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in a new tab) Or on Facebook (opens in a new tab).