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
The same type of rocket crashed into West Africa and the Atlantic Ocean in May 2020, possibly damaging an inhabited village.
The drag of Earth's atmosphere will eventually tug the rocket core out of orbit — however, given the object's high speed and variable altitude, it's impossible to predict exactly where or when it will fall toward Earth's surface. Much of the core will likely burn up in the planet's atmosphere, SpaceNews reported, but there is a chance that some chunks of debris will survive the reentry and rain down on the land or ocean.
This was the first of 11 planned launches involved in the construction of China's Tianhe, or "Heavenly Harmony," space station, according to SpaceNews. The station is expected to be complete in late 2022.
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04 May, 2021 - 03:00am
By Jackie Salo
May 3, 2021 | 2:47pm | Updated May 3, 2021 | 3:35pm
A massive piece of Chinese space junk is unpredictably circling Earth and could rain debris down on New York or another metropolitan area in the next few days, scientists warned.
The 21-ton object is the core stage of one of China’s largest rockets, the Long March 5B, which had launched the first module for the country’s space station, Space News reported.
When the core component separated from the rest of the rocket, the remaining portion was supposed to take a predetermined path that would send it falling into the ocean.
There are several possible places where debris that survives re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere could crash down — including New York, Madrid and Beijing in the Northern Hemisphere and southern Chile and Wellington, New Zealand, in the Southern Hemisphere, the outlet reported.
Its exact landing is impossible to predict due to its current velocity — orbiting the Earth every 90 minutes, the outlet reported.
But the most likely outcome will be it falls into the ocean or inhabited regions, which account for a large portion of the projected range.
Astronomer Jonathan McDowell said that large pieces will likely be obliterated by the intense heat during the re-entry to Earth, but smaller pieces may make it to the ground.
“I think by current standards it’s unacceptable to let it re-enter uncontrolled,” McDowell told the outlet.
“Since 1990, nothing over 10 tons has been deliberately left in orbit to re-enter uncontrolled,” he added.
The Long March 5B stage, however, is significantly larger than one on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which reportedly caused debris to fall during reentry on a farmer’s field in Washington state.
“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 outlet.
Chinese space officials launched the Long March 5B carrier rocket last week at the Wenchang Space Launch Center in the southern island province of Hainan, state broadcaster CCTV said.
It was carrying modules for the country’s first permanent space station, which is set to be completed around 2022.
At least a dozen Chinese astronauts are currently training to live in the station.
The launch last week was the first of 11 missions to build and equip the station, which is expected to weigh 66 tons.
04 May, 2021 - 03:00am
The rocket debris, which is estimated to weigh more than 20 metric tons, will most likely splash down in remote ocean waters, but its current trajectory also passes over urban areas as far north as New York state and as far south as New Zealand, reports Andrew Jones of SpaceNews.
China’s Long March 5B rocket blasted off last Wednesday, and successfully delivered the first “Tianhe” module of the nation’s new space station into orbit. Unfortunately, the massive core stage of this particular rocket, known as the CZ-5B, also ended up in orbit.
Expendable rocket parts that enter orbit are often equipped to perform “deorbit burns,” maneuvers that guide them into controlled reentries of the atmosphere over unpopulated regions. Ground-based radar trackers have revealed that the 30-meter-tall CZ-5B core is tumbling in space, confirming that Chinese space officials do not have control over the component and therefore cannot perform a deorbit burn that would ensure a safe reentry.
China already sparked worldwide criticism when it initially debuted the CZ-5B in May 2020, a launch that also placed the core booster into an uncontrolled orbit. Debris from its wild reentry was reportedly scattered across villages in Cote d’Ivoire; luckily, there were no accounts of injuries or fatalities caused by the impacts.
“It was seemingly a successful launch, until we started getting information about a reentry of a rocket body, a reentry that was really dangerous,” said Jim Bridenstine, who was NASA’s administrator at the time, according to Jeff Foust of SpaceNews. “It flew over population centers and it reentered Earth’s atmosphere. It could have been extremely dangerous. We’re really fortunate in the sense that it doesn’t appear to have hurt anybody.”
It’s not unusual for rocket parts to fail to safely deorbit. Just a few weeks ago, the second stage booster of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 made an uncontrolled reentry that ultimately dumped a heavy pressure tank onto a farm in Washington state.
However, China has drawn another round of consternation and rebuke from international space officials due to the sheer size of its CZ-5B core, which is about seven times larger than the Falcon 9 second stage.
“Both CZ-5B launches have left their core stage in orbit for uncontrolled reentry,” Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told George Dvorsky of Gizmodo. “They are over 20 [metric tons]. It has been standard practice for 30 years for the rest of the world not to leave objects this big—or even half this big—in orbit without controlled deorbit.
“This design choice in 2021 is unacceptable and tarnishes China’s great achievement in launching Tianhe,” McDowell added.
To that point, objects of this size haven’t been left to fall out of orbit in such a dangerous manner since the Russian Salyut 7 spacecraft, which weighed 39 metric tons, burned up over Argentina in 1991. The United States holds the record for the largest uncontrolled reentry ever, which occurred in 1979 when the 79-ton Skylab station scattered debris across the Indian Ocean and Western Australia.
The CZ-5B core may well burn up completely in the atmosphere, and any leftover debris will most likely strike uninhabited stretches of our planet. But until the booster’s reentry has been confirmed by ground trackers, it’s impossible to predict exactly where it will end up, or whether anyone will be affected by its unmoored demise.
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04 May, 2021 - 03:00am
Last weekend (April 24th), China celebrated its sixth “National Space Day” (aka. Aerospace Industry Achievement Exhibition) in Nanjing, an event that highlights advances China has made in space. Similar to Space Day that is held each year on the first Thursday in May (this year, it will be held on May 7th), the goal is to foster interest in space exploration and the STEMS so as to inspire the next generation of astronauts and aerospace engineers.
This year, the festivities focused on the Chang’e-5 mission (which showcased some of the lunar samples it brought back), and the name of China’s first Mars rover (Zhurong) – which will be landing on the Red Planet later this month. But another interesting snippet was a video presented by one of China’s main rocket manufacturers that showed demonstrated that they are working on a rocket similar to the Starship.
The video, titled “One Hour Global Arrival in the Space Transportation System,” was presented by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) – one of the country’s main state-owned rocket manufacturers. Similar to what Musk and SpaceX have proposed for the Starship, the video explores the potential for rocket systems that could deliver suborbital point-to-point transportation services.
The animation was recorded and uploaded to the Chinese social network Weibo (video above), which was accompanied by the following description (translated directly from Mandarin):
In the video, we can see two different concepts for achieving suborbital passenger flights that could be operational by the 2040s. The video came to the attention of Eric Berger at Ars Technica, which mirrored it on Youtube so that it could reach a wider audience. The animation begins by showing a spaceport with several launch pads nearby. On each, we see two-stage vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) rockets that look strikingly similar to the Starship and Super Heavy
Also similar to the Starship is the way the first stage booster returns to Earth after separation, indicating that it is a totally reusable system. We then see passengers scening views of Earth and experiencing temporary weightlessness before the spacecraft begins making a powered descent. The flight ends with the spacecraft landing in a major city clearly several time zones away (since it’s nighttime where they land).
In addition to its appearance and configuration, the animation is also similar to the “Earth to Earth” concept video released by SpaceX in September of 2017 (shown below). In that animation, a Starship ferries passengers from a platform at sea off the coast of New York and land on a similar platform off the coast of Shanghai in just 34 minutes.
The second point-to-point concept in the Chinese animation shows a horizontal takeoff and landing (HTOL) vehicle being launched via an electromagnetic rail. Once this “spaceplane” is catapulted into the air, it engages what appears to be a hybrid-propellant rocket engine to accelerate from Mach 2 to Mach 15 (supersonic to hypersonic) and achieve suborbital flight.
Both of these concepts incorporate technology and ideas that are widely popular right now with both space agencies and commercial space. Between NASA, the ESA, SpaceX, Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada, Reaction Engines, and other federal and private programs, multiple reusable rocket and spaceplane concepts are currently under development.
What’s more, both are consistent with China’s long-term aim to become the world’s leading space power by 2045. According to the roadmap released by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation in 2017, China hopes to develop a “suborbital carrier vehicle” by 2025 that will eventually grow into a fleet, one which is capable of delivering cargo anywhere in the world by 2035 and passengers by 2045.
However, the clear resemblance between CALT’s rocket concept and the Starship is also in keeping with the way China has monitored SpaceX’s progress practically from inception. As Eric Berger noted in his recently-published book Liftoff – which recounts the early struggles of SpaceX – a Chinese spy boat was stationed off the coast of Omelek Island (part of the Marshall Islands, South Pacific) in 2006 to watch the inaugural flight of the Falcon 1.
More recent examples include the incorporation of “grid fins” to the Long March 2C rocket (similar to the Falcon 9) for the sake of future reusability, as well as developing the Long March 8 to land on sea platforms. China’s long-term plan for the Long March 9 – which will be the country’s most powerful heavy-lift system once it is in service (slated for the 2030s) – includes making it partly reusable.
In the meantime, it is not clear if China plans to develop a Starship-like rocket would include equipping it for missions to the Moon and Mars (in addition to point-to-point suborbital flights). But since regular missions to the Moon and Mars were also part of the roadmap, it’s entirely possible China intends to adopt the Starship design and mission profile in its entirety.
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04 May, 2021 - 03:00am
Weatherboy Weather News, Maps, RADAR, Satellite, and Forecasts.
An out-of-control spent rocket originally launched by China on April 29 is racing back towards Earth and what’s left of it is expected to impact Earth on May 10. The identical rocket type launched at the same Chinese launch facility last year crashed on May 11 around the west coast of Africa. It is too early to say with a high degree of certainty where the rocket or its debris will ultimately crash, but forecasts show if an impact were to occur in the United States, the eastern U.S. would have the highest odds of seeing impact. Chicago, Buffalo, New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Dover, Atlantic City, Richmond, Gainesville, and Jacksonville are among the eastern U.S. cities the rocket is expected to pass over and perhaps crash into.
The U.S. government is once again monitoring the skies for the potential impact of this space junk. Because it is out of control and moving erratically, experts aren’t sure exactly where it will land until hours before it does; because it’s moving at speeds of over 15,000 mph, it may be too late to warn people of the impending impact zone.
We have reached out to the U.S. Space Force for comment but have yet to hear back as of press time. The U.S. Space Force was created in December 2019. If an entity in space or tumbling from space were to threaten U.S. interests, they’d work in partnership with other military branches and government teams to respond to the threat.
On Thursday, the Long March 5B, a variant of China’s largest rocket, launched the 22.5-metric-ton Tianhe module for a space station China is building. Unable to participate in the International Space Station (ISS) due to restrictions imposed by the United States, China has embarked on building their own called “Tiangong.” Construction on the space station is due to be completed by sometime next year, with 10 more major launches planned this year to bring components of the station to space. With the ISS due to be retired after 2024, Tiangong may remain as the only working space station in Earth’s orbit.
The Long March 5, developed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, roughly matches the capabilities of American rockets like the ULA Delta IV Heavy and the SpaceX Falcon Heavy. The massive rocket that was used to bring the GOES-R and GOES-S weather satellites to orbit was a ULA Atlas V; despite its size, it’s considerably smaller and less powerful than the Long March 5.
The Long March 5 core stage has roughly 7x the mass of the Space X Falcon 9 second stage. The second stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 failed to deorbit properly following a launch in March; it made an uncontrolled reentry over the Pacific Northwest, dropping large debris into a farm field there. Fortunately, no one was injured.
The Wenchang facility on Hainan Island allows launch vehicles to soar over the South China Sea; previous launches lifted-off from inland launch facilities, forcing used rocket stages to fall onto land. Previous rocket stages have crashed into people’s homes in China. In the United States, such launches lift-off from launchpads near water, allowing spent rocket stages to tumble back to the ocean. Prior to such an event, NASA in partnership with local government agencies, put the projected splash-down area as a “no-fly” / “no-boat” area until the debris is safely down.
However, as was the case when China launched an experimental capsule into space last year, it appears the spent Long March 5 main stage will tumble back to Earth in an uncontrolled manner, potentially threatening some location on the planet with an impact. While experts believe much of the large spent rocket stage will burn-up upon re-entry, it is possible some parts of it, such as its massive motors, may survive re-entry and impact Earth. The spent rocket stage is roughly 100 feet long by 16 feet wide. This is approximately the same size as 4 school buses, parked 2 by 2.
In last year’s incident, the out of control rocket traveled directly over Los Angeles and New York City and crashed 15 minutes later near the west coast of Africa. Debris was reported on the ground in the village of Mahounou in Cote d’Ivoire on the Ivory Coast. Had the re-entry occurred 15 minutes earlier, New York City could have seen considerable damage or loss of life from the impact of the fast-moving debris.
The Aerospace Corporation is one entity tracking the out-of-control rocket. Last year, Aerospace Corporation tracked the falling rocket, providing updates to its forecast up until impact time. In March of 2018, Aerospace also tracked a falling Chinese space station. It eventually crashed into the ocean. The Aerospace Corporation performs objective technical analyses and assessments for a variety of government, civil, and commercial customers; it is an independent, non-profit corporation operating within the space industry.