Chinese rocket falling back to Earth in uncertain path: 'It's potentially not good'


New York Post 04 May, 2021 - 07:34am 16 views

When is the Chinese rocket going to land?

There are fears that the rocket could land on an inhabited area; the last time a Long March rocket was launched in May 2020, debris was reported falling on villages in the Ivory Coast. The speed of the rocket means scientists still do not yet know when it will fall, but it is likely to do so before 10 May 2021. The IndependentChina’s out-of-control rocket - latest: Spacecraft ‘tumbling to Earth’ and could land anywhere

What did China launch into space?

Shenzhou 3 and Shenzhou 4 were launched in 2002, carrying test dummies. Following these was the successful Shenzhou 5, China's first crewed mission in space on October 15, 2003, which carried Yang Liwei in orbit for 21 hours and made China the third nation to launch a human into orbit. wikipedia.orgChinese space program

Last week's launch of the Chinese Long March 5B rocket was a success, for the most part. 

The module is on its way to forming the first of 11 parts of the Chinese "Tianhe," or “Heavenly Harmony,” space station — but the booster and tanks that launched the rocket are not where they're supposed to be. 

The boosters were supposed to fall to earth in a planned zone over the ocean, but inadvertently flew into the Earth's orbit. 

What goes up must come down, and this means the gigantic "core stage" (a term for the "backbone" of a rocket, including tanks and thrusters) — measuring 98 feet long and 16 feet wide — is now spinning out of control and poised to perform an uncontrolled reentry somewhere on Earth any day now, reports SpaceNews.

The event will mark one of the biggest human-made objects to perform an uncontrolled reentry in the history of space travel.

It's not yet known why the launcher didn't detach earlier over the ocean as planned, but a similar mistake happened to a Chinese rocket last year. That launcher reportedly finally fell into the Atlantic Ocean and onto West Africa, with debris possibly causing damage to villages in Cote d’Ivoire. No casualties were reported. 

The core stage, which includes four side boosters, has a mass of around 21 tons.

Jonathan McDowell, Astronomer at the Center for Astrophysics, told SpaceNews that this is the fourth biggest ever incident of unplanned reentry of equipment.

“The Long March 5B core stage is seven times more massive than the Falcon 9 second stage that caused a lot of press attention a few weeks ago when it reentered above Seattle and dumped a couple of pressure tanks on Washington state,” McDowell told the publication.

“I think by current standards it’s unacceptable to let it reenter uncontrolled. Since 1990 nothing over 10 tons has been deliberately left in orbit to reenter uncontrolled,” he added. 

The tanks and thrusters are currently spinning around the Earth at a rate of more than 4.4 miles per second, and are being monitored by a U.S. military radar, SpaceNews reports. The debris is flashing periodically, suggesting it’s tumbling and out of control. Surviving objects will fall vertically after deceleration and travel at terminal velocity, according to the publication.

The largest and most famous similar incident occurred in 1979 during the reentry of NASA’s 76-ton Skylab, which scattered debris across the Indian Ocean and Western Australia. 

The Long March 5B booster’s orbital inclination of 41.5 degrees means the rocket body passes a little farther north than New York and as far south as New Zealand, so its reentry could occur anywhere around the globe between these latitudes. 

A night time reentry, though, could make for spectacular viewing, as with a recent reentry of SpaceX's Falcon 9 second stage, which was supposed to burn up over the Pacific Ocean but made an uncontrolled reentry over the Pacific Northwest. That incident produced a spectacular light show and dropped a pressure tank onto a farmer’s field, thankfully with no casualties. 

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Chinese rocket in uncontrolled fall back to earth

The Jerusalem Post 04 May, 2021 - 09:34am

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'Not good': Fears Chinese rocket will fall onto populated area

Yahoo News Australia 04 May, 2021 - 03:22am

China launched an unmanned module on Thursday (local time) containing what will become living quarters for three crew on a permanent space station it plans to complete by the end of 2022, state media reported.

The module, named "Tianhe", or "Harmony of the Heavens", was launched on the Long March 5B, China's largest carrier rocket.

The core of the Long March 5B then entered a temporary orbit before what experts say will be one of the largest ever uncontrolled re-entires, with some fearing rocket parts could crash down on inhabited parts of the globe. 

"It’s potentially not good," Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Astrophysics Centre at Harvard University, told The Guardian

"Last time they launched a Long March 5B rocket they ended up with big, long rods of metal flying through the sky and damaging several buildings in the Ivory Coast," he said. 

In that incident in May last year, local reports claimed a piece of 12-metre-long debris fell from the sky, crashing in the village of Mahounou. 

Fortunately, no one was reported to be injured. 

A similar incident happened in southern China in 2018 with locals posting videos of the falling rocket parts.

Mr McDowell said pieces from the latest launch that survive re-entry could prove to be the "equivalent of a small plane crash" scattered over about 160 kilometres. 

According to Space News, US military radars have tracked the rocket travelling at about seven kilometres per second in orbit, but when it will fall to Earth is hard to know. 

In the later missions, China will launch the two other core modules, four manned spacecraft and four cargo spacecraft.

But China has repeatedly come under fire for its ostensibly lax approach to space debris. 

Work on the Chinese space station program began a decade ago with the launch of a space lab Tiangong-1 in 2011, and later, Tiangong-2 in 2016.

Both helped China test the program's space rendezvous and docking capabilities.

China aims to become a major space power by 2030. It has ramped up its space program with visits to the moon, the launch of an unmanned probe to Mars and the construction of its own space station.

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