The core stage of another Chinese Long March 5B rocket is set to fall uncontrollably back to Earth this week after delivering the third and final module to China’s fledgling space station.
The approximately 25-tonne (23 metric ton) rocket stage, which was launched Oct. 31 to deliver the Mengtian lab cabin module to the Tiangong space station, is scheduled to reenter Earth’s atmosphere on Saturday, Nov. 5 at 11:51 p.m. EDT, plus or minus 2 p.m., according to researchers at The Aerospace Corporation Center for Orbital Debris and Reentry Studies.
It’s unclear exactly where the rocket will land, but the possible debris field includes the United States, Central and South America, Africa, India, China, Southeast Asia and the United States. ‘Australia, according to The Aerospace Corporation, a US government-funded nonprofit research center based in California. This is the fourth time in two years that China has dumped its rockets out of control. Previous crash landings have seen metal objects rain down on villages in Ivory Coast, debris land in the Indian Ocean near the Maldives and pieces of rockets crash dangerously near villages in Borneo.
A rocket’s first stage, its propellant, is usually the largest and most powerful section, and the least likely to completely burn out on reentry. There are ways around this problem. Engineers try to aim the rockets so that their propellant sections don’t escape in orbit, causing them to fall harmlessly into the ocean instead. If the boosters go into orbit, some are designed to fire a few extra bursts from their engines to bring them back into a controlled re-entry.
But the Long March 5B booster engines cannot restart once they have stopped, dooming the massive booster to spin around the Earth before landing in an unpredictable location.
China has insisted that unchecked re-entries are common practice and dismissed concerns about potential damage as “shameless hype”. In 2021, then-Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying accused Western reporting of bias and “textbook-type double standards” in their coverage of the Chinese rocket downfall. For example, in March 2021, debris from a free-falling SpaceX rocket crashed into a farm in Washington state — an event that Hua says Western news outlets covered positively and with gusto. use of “romantic words”. A year later, in August 2022, a second set of SpaceX debris landed on a sheep farm in Australia.
The odds of someone being injured by the falling rocket are low (ranging from 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 230) and the risk for people alone is even lower (between 1 in 10 trillion and 1 in 6 trillion ), according to The Aerospace Society. Nevertheless, as the rocket debris trajectory covers approximately 88% of the world’s population, it places the risk of damage well above the internationally accepted risk of loss threshold for uncontrolled re-entry of 1 in 10,000.
“Space nations must minimize the risks to people and property on Earth from space object re-entries and maximize transparency regarding these operations,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. written in a statement after the 2021 Long March 5B crash. “It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding its space debris.”
The T-shaped Tiangong space station, which is about a quarter of the mass of the International Space Station, is expected to remain in low Earth orbit for at least 10 years. Its rotating crews of three astronauts will use the station to perform experiments and test new technologies, such as ultra-cool atomic clocks.
In recent years, China has stepped up its space presence to catch up with the United States and Russia, having landed a rover on the far side of the moon in 2019 and extracted rock samples from the surface of the moon in 2020. China also said it would establish a lunar research station at the moon’s south pole by 2029.
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