A large Chinese rocket should make an uncontrolled entry back into the Earth’s atmosphere, but it is not yet clear exactly where and when the debris will collide with our planet.
China’s Long March 5B rocket “unpredictably” crashes back to Earth after the launch of part of China’s new T-shaped space station on Thursday local time in Wenchang, SpaceNews reported. The Tianhe Space Station module, weighing 22.5 metric tons, is in correct orbit after separating as planned from the rocket’s main stage, which is expected to re-enter the atmosphere in a few days or about a week.
“This will be one of the largest cases of uncontrolled reentry of a spacecraft that could potentially land in a populated area,” SpaceNews said in a statement. However, it is more likely that the main stage will fall in an uninhabited place like Earth’s oceans, which cover 70% of the planet. The likelihood that a particular person will encounter space debris is extremely low and was once estimated at 1 in several trillion.
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Plotting the trajectory of a falling rocket stage is difficult, if not impossible, because there are too many uncertainties associated with calculating the effect of atmospheric drag on the main module. The Earth’s atmosphere can expand or contract due to solar activity, making it difficult to accurately determine when and where a rocket will hit.
“The high speed of the rocket body means that it orbits the Earth approximately every 90 minutes, and therefore a change in entry time of just a few minutes results in an entry point of thousands of kilometers,” SpaceNews said, adding that the object’s orbital inclination is 41. five. degrees means that it “goes a little further north than New York, Madrid and Beijing, and south to the south of Chile and Wellington, New Zealand, and can return anywhere in the area.”
The expected number of rocket returns among several large debris over the past several decades, including the Chinese space station Tiangong, the European gravity field and the stationary Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE). However, most of the debris tends to burn up in the atmosphere, and only the largest can fall to the ground. Launching states also usually go out of their way to point the returning piece of debris back to Earth and give estimates of where it might fall.
On Twitter, space flight columnist and astrophysicist at Harvard University Jonathan McDowell planned to return Long March 5B versus other major debris events, not the least of which was the uncontrolled return of NASA’s 76-ton Skylab space station nearly 42 years ago. Ground controllers were able to navigate the space station somewhat above its intended entry point into the Indian Ocean, but the debris track was much farther than expected.
“To summarize, this one is bigger than anything recent, but not as big as Skylab and its ilk back then.” – McDowell said on twitter return of Long March 5B.
Tianhe Altitude Graph This Morning; the Tianhe space station remains in orbit 352 x 385 km. The base stage CZ-5B has decreased from an initial orbit of 170 x 375 km to 165 x 326 km; resistance at perigee causes a decrease in apogee. pic.twitter.com/X0ZQIiEqUEMay 3, 2021
China is planning a busy construction schedule for a space station, with state media reporting that construction should be completed by the end of 2022. Like the International Space Station, the Chinese complex will include several modules requiring 10 additional launches: two more module launches, four crewed missions and four cargo ship flights, according to the China Global Television Network (CGTN).
Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.