The debris from a Chinese rocket will fall to Earth this weekend, in an unknown location.
The huge Chinese rocket travels at 17,000 miles per hour and weighs around 25 tons.
Experts expect between 5 and 9 tons – or up to 18,000 pounds – of material to fall from the sky.
Right now, a huge Chinese rocket is about to crash into Earth. Experts say the piece of missile junk, called Long March 5B, is likely to hit Earth this weekend.
The Chinese rocket was launched on July 24 to deliver a laboratory module to China’s Tiangong space station, which is under construction. Researchers at Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Orbital Reentry and Debris Studies, or CORS, said the rocket’s junk was descending and would begin an uncontrolled re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere on Saturday or Sunday.
There is “a non-zero probability that the surviving debris will land in a populated area,” the CORDS researchers wrote on the centre’s website.
Using the tracking data, the researchers created a map that projects a potential field of locations for the re-entry of space junk, but the actual re-entry point is still uncertain. The blue and yellow lines indicate all points where the rocket could fall.
The yellow satellite icon shows where the booster will be exactly in the middle of the 36 hour window in which it could possibly fall. (The icon is not a prediction of where the booster will land.)
This is the third time that China has launched a Long March 5B and allowed its body to fall to Earth uncontrolled. China is preparing to re-launch the rocket in October, Spaceflight Now said.
At this point, it is impossible to accurately estimate where the rocket stage will fall.
“The problem is that the density of the upper atmosphere varies over time. It is actually the weather up there. This makes it impossible to predict exactly where the satellite will have crossed enough atmosphere to melt, break up and eventually re-enter,” Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said in a briefing on Thursday.
The speed at which debris darting through space can lead to huge discrepancies in predictions, McDowell added. If you have an hour off, “because it’s going 17,000 miles an hour, you’re 17,000 miles from where it’s going to go down, and that’s the big challenge with all of that,” he said.
Experts from The Aerospace Corporation say the general rule is that up to 40% of the mass of a large object reaches the ground. In this case, they expect between 5 and 9 tons of material to fall, up to 18,000 lbs.
Normally, after a launch, rockets push themselves into the atmosphere and fall back to Earth over remote ocean areas, such as the South Pacific, a process called “controlled reentry.” It is unclear why China did not design or program the Long March 5B to do so.
“Apparently it seems irresponsible. And it’s plausible that they have enough technical data to know it will arrive in the South Pacific, even without being pushed to do so. That’s a possibility. But you know, having this big thing fall out of the sky would be ugly,” said John Logsdon, founder of the George Washington University Space Policy Institute and former NASA Advisory Council member.
If parts of rockets land on people or their property, China could be hooked for the damage. Under the 1972 Space Responsibility Convention treaty, the launching nation is responsible for its rockets and any damage they cause.
Robin Dickey, a space policy analyst at The Aerospace Corporation, said the current debris mitigation guidelines and long-term sustainability guidelines from the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space include recommendations to minimize the risk posed to people and property on Earth by uncontrolled returns, both of which are borne by China. “The problem is that they are not very technical or specific, and they are also non-binding. There are no legal consequences of not taking measures deemed feasible to mitigate the risk,” Dickey said during Thursday’s briefing.
“One thing I will look closely at in response to things like this re-entry is who are the actors – the countries, the individuals and the companies – who are publicly responding to this behavior and saying it is irresponsible, because that will indicate whether we ‘will be in. able to develop stronger or clearer norms about where the threshold between OK and not OK lies, ”Dickey said.
In May 2021, pieces of another Chinese Long March rocket landed in the Indian Ocean. And in May 2020, another Chinese rocket broke, dropping debris and causing property damage in Africa.
“They have participated in the UN discussions on rules of good behavior. And so they are certainly aware of the need for rules of behavior. Regardless of whether they are voluntarily ignoring it in this case, it’s hard to think they would be irresponsible,” Logsdon said. .
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