China launched a space rocket of more than 20 tons that will carry out a uncontrolled re-entry to Earth, scientists warned.
This Tuesday, the China National Space Administration (CNSA for its acronym in English) launched the third and last experimental module of the Tiangong Space Station, Mengtianaboard a rocket Long March 5B (CZ-5B).
Typically, a rocket’s first stage and its auxiliary boosters are not designed to reach orbit. Their trajectories are planned so that they land in a safe area, usually in the ocean.
However, the case of the rocket Long March 5B It is unusual because this reached orbit on liftoff, instead of falling earlier as is common practice. That means you can no longer control where it will re-enter. Therefore, his empty body is now in a nearly circular orbit around the Earth, where it is being pulled into an uncontrolled re-entry.
The core drive, which is the part that will fall, weighs about 22.5 tonsabout the size of a 10 story building. Scientists hope that 5 and 9 tons survive re-entry and impact the Earth’s surface. Furthermore, they warn that over 88% of the population world lives under the potential imprint of the place where they land.
Experts at the Center for Orbital Debris and Reentry Studies (CORDS for its acronym in English) of the Aerospace Corporation are actively tracking the trajectory of the body of the CZ-5B. According to their predictions, it will hit the Earth this Saturday November 5 at 4:51 UTC, with a margin of error of 14 hours.
For their part, the European Union Space Surveillance and Tracking Operations Centers (EUSST) foresee a return to late Friday or Saturday.
Since the piece of rocket debris is moving at more than 27 thousand kilometers per houra variation of a few minutes in the estimates means a difference of hundreds of kilometers in the impact site.
“The uncertainty of where the large debris will ultimately fall presents a level of risk to human safety and property damage which is well above commonly accepted thresholds,” CORDS warned.
Factors such as the uncontrolled form of descent and its size, which is too large to burn up completely in the Earth’s atmosphere, present risks high enough to require additional preventive preparation worldwide, the Center stressed.
Similar uncontrolled re-entries of Long March rockets occurred in 2020, 2021 and most recently in July 2022, of which two resulted in a large debris landing near populated areas. Debris from this year fell into the ocean off the coast of the Philippines.
According to 1967 United Nations Outer Space Treatycountries retain ownership of objects they launch into space, even after those objects re-enter and return to Earth.
The country that launched the object, in this case China, could request the return of the parts that survived re-entry. The treaty also says that said nation is internationally responsible for damages.