Another huge piece of Chinese space debris is falling to Earth. “Well, here it is again,” experts say.

Another Chinese launch, another unguided re-entry.

The Chinese Manned Space Agency (CSMA) launched the third and final module of the Tiangong space station on Monday (October 31) using a Long March 5V launch vehicle. As with previous Long March 5B launches, China did not perform a controlled deorbit of the rocket’s main stage after its payload was deployed. This means that in the coming days, the 23-tonne (21 metric tons) body of a Chinese rocket will fall to Earth over a place that has yet to be determined.

“For those who have followed previous versions of this: here it is again,” said Ted Mühlhaupt, a consultant to the aerospace corporation’s chief engineer department, during a briefing on Wednesday (November 2) that discussed the upcoming space launch. garbage accident and what can be done in the future to prevent such incidents.

While Mühlhaupt was quick to point out that “no one should change their lives because of this”, he also pointed out that “88% of the world’s population is in danger and therefore 7 billion people are in danger” due to China’s space garbage. fall on them.

RELATED: Chinese launch next week to set the stage for another major space debris accident

Aerospace Corporation’s panel of experts made sure to note that they were not trying to fan the event or create a panic. “The answer is that today you have a much better chance of winning the lottery than getting hit by this facility,” Mühlhaupt said. “The risk to a person is six in 10 trillion. It’s really a small number.”

Visualization of possible fall paths for the Long March 5B rocket body. Possible re-entry points lie anywhere along the blue and yellow ground tracks. Areas not under the lines are not affected by debris. (Image credit: Aerospace Corporation)

This is not the first such case. In July, 5.5 to 9.9 tons (5 to 9 metric tons) of another Long March 5B crashed into the Indian Ocean after falling through Earth’s atmosphere. Another Long March 5B crashed into the Indian Ocean in April 2021 after the Chinese space agency failed to perform a controlled deorbit. And in 2020, after the rocket’s debut launch, pieces of the rocket’s main stage reportedly fell to the ground in Côte d’Ivoire.

(Most rockets are designed so that their main stages fall into the ocean or over unoccupied land shortly after launch, or return to Earth for a safe landing, in the case of SpaceX ships. But the Long March 5B main stage reaches orbit, and China allows it to stay in raised state until dragging lowers it in an uncontrolled manner.)

As more of these uncontrolled Chinese re-entries occur, more and more voices are calling for the establishment of international laws or regulations to prevent such incidents. Marlon Sorge, Executive Director, Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Orbital and Returning Debris Research (CORDS) (will open in a new tab)), said during today’s briefing that international laws are unclear when it comes to these types of re-entries. “The reality is that internationally there are no real laws, no treaties that govern what you are allowed to do in terms of re-entry,” Sorge said. “So there really is no direct legal way to control what happens internationally.”

For their part, neither the Chinese National Space Agency nor any other official government body has responded to Aerospace Corporation’s regular tracking and reports of falling Long March 5B rocket bodies. Mühlhaupt said he was unaware of “any direct Chinese comments about the aerospace industry,” though he “saw general comments about the West overhyping it.” Sorge said the Chinese government “made a few comments in the press at one point, but mostly no.”

“I mean, really the point of Aerospace here is just to report what’s going on – make sure the people you know are informed; they understand that they have a realistic view of the situation,” Sorge added. “There’s not much to argue about.”

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