On Sunday, a Long March 5 rocket carrying a laboratory module to the Tiangong space station was successfully launched. The Chinese government announced last week that the rocket’s re-entry was unlikely to pose a risk to people on the ground due to predictions of the rocket landing in the sea.
However, recent rockets launched to the unfinished Chinese space station lack the capability of controlled re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. The empty spacecraft is in orbit around our planet where it is heading towards an uncontrollable re-entry.
In May 2021, NASA issued statements calling on the Chinese space agency to design its rockets in a way that allows spacecraft to disintegrate into smaller pieces upon re-entry. The practice is an international standard and NASA’s statement called on China’s space agency as well as other “space nations” to take responsibility for their debris to ensure Earth’s long-term safety and sustainability. .
Although it is too early to predict the landfall of the debris, many have made first predictions that the 25-ton piece will land in an area spanning the United States, Africa, Australia, Brazil, India and Southeast Asia.
The same Long March 5 spacecraft was launched twice, once in May 2020 and then in May 2021, loaded with different parts from Tiangong Station. During the two flights of the rocket, debris fell back to Earth, in Côte d’Ivoire and in the Indian Ocean. Although these accidents resulted in no injuries, these incidents drew criticism from a range of space agencies. When looking at space travel as a whole, it’s important to note that China’s space agency isn’t solely responsible for space debris. This space debris from past space missions now forms a cloud with up to 750,000 pieces of debris surrounding the Earth. The responsibility for cleaning up space rests with all international space agencies to help prevent a cataphoric environmental crisis in outer space.