Pentagon tracking out-of-control Chinese rocket that could reenter Earth's atmosphere

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CNN 04 May, 2021 - 06:10pm 22 views

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

A giant piece of space junk is hurtling towards Earth. Here's how worried you should be

The Conversation AU 04 May, 2021 - 07:00pm

Professorial Fellow, Bond University / Emeritus Professor of International Law, Western Sydney University, Western Sydney University

Western Sydney University provides funding as a member of The Conversation AU.

A large piece of space debris, possibly weighing several tonnes, is currently on an uncontrolled reentry phase (that’s space speak for “out of control”), and parts of it are expected to crash down to Earth over the next few weeks.

If that isn’t worrying enough, it is impossible to predict exactly where the pieces that don’t burn up in the atmosphere might land. Given the object’s orbit, the possible landing points are anywhere in a band of latitudes “a little farther north than New York, Madrid and Beijing and as far south as southern Chile and Wellington, New Zealand”.

The debris is part of the Long March 5B rocket that recently successfully launched China’s first module for its proposed space station. The incident comes roughly a year after another similar Chinese rocket fell to Earth, landing in the Atlantic Ocean but not before it reportedly left a trail of debris in the African nation of Cote D'Ivoire.

At the time, experts noted this was one of the largest pieces of human-made debris ever to fall to Earth. We cannot say with certainty what fate awaits this latest piece of space junk.

Australia already holds the record in the category of “who can be hit by the biggest piece of space junk”. In 1979, the 77-tonne US space station SkyLab disintegrated over Western Australia, peppering the area around the southern coastal town of Esperance with fragments.

At the time, the event was met with with excitement and a sense of lightheartedness, and many pieces were collected by space enthusiasts. Esperance shire council flippantly issued NASA with a fine for littering, and a US radio station later raised enough money to pay the debt.

Although there have been no recorded deaths or serious injuries from people being hit by space debris, that’s no reason to think it’s not dangerous. Just one year before SkyLab’s demise, a Soviet remote sensing (spy) satellite, Cosmos 954, plummeted into a barren region of Canada’s Northwest Territories, spreading radioactive debris over several hundred square kilometres.

With the Cold War at its height, the sensitivity of the nuclear technology on board Cosmos 954 led to an unfortunate delay in locating and cleaning up the wreckage, because of the distrust between the Soviet Union and the Canadian/US recovery effort.

The clean-up operation took months but located only a portion of the debris. Canada billed the Soviet Union more than C$6 million, having spent millions more, but was ultimately paid only C$3 million.

Since the late 1970s, pieces of space debris have fallen to Earth regularly and are viewed with increasing concern. Of course, more than 70% of Earth is covered by oceans, and only a minuscule fraction of the remaining 30% is covered by your house. But for anyone falling foul of the extremely long odds, the consequences would be truly disastrous.

It was just a quirk of fate that Cosmos 954 did not land on Toronto or Quebec City, where the radioactive fallout would have necessitated a large-scale evacuation. In 2007, pieces of debris from a Russian satellite narrowly missed a Chilean passenger plane flying between Santiago and Auckland. As we send more objects into space, the chances of a calamitous crash-landing will only increase.

International law sets out a compensation regime that would apply in many circumstances of damage on Earth, as well as when satellites collide in space. The 1972 Liability Convention, a UN treaty, imposes liability on “launching states” for damage caused by their space objects, which includes an absolute liability regime when they crash to Earth as debris.

In the case of the Long March 5B, this would impose potential liability on China. The treaty has only been invoked once before (for the Cosmos 954 incident) and therefore may not be regarded as a powerful disincentive. However, it is likely to come into play in the future in a more crowded space environment, and with more uncontrolled reentries. Of course, this legal framework applies only after the damage occurs.

Other international guidelines regarding debris mitigation and long-term sustainability of space activities set out voluntary standards intended to limit the probability of collisions in space, and minimise the breakup of satellites either during or after their missions.

Some satellites can be moved into a graveyard orbit at the end of their operational life. While this works well for certain specific orbits at a relatively high altitude, it is impractical and hazardous to start moving the vast majority of satellites around between orbital planes. Most of the millions of pieces of space junk are destined either to orbit in an uncontrollable manner for many years or, if they are in low Earth orbit, to gradually descend towards the Earth, hopefully burning up in the atmosphere before contact with terra firma.

A globally coordinated space traffic management system will be vital to avoid collisions that would result in loss of control of satellites, leaving them to tumble helplessly in orbit or fall back to Earth.

Comprehensively tracking every satellite’s movement and functionality is even harder than it sounds, because it would inevitably require countries to be willing to share information they often currently regard as confidential matters of national security.

But, ultimately, global cooperation is essential if we are to avoid an unsustainable future for our space activities. In the meantime, don’t forget to gaze upwards every now and then — you might spot some of the most spectacular litter on the planet.

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Chinese rocket stage predicted to reenter atmosphere around May 8 - SpaceNews

SpaceNews 04 May, 2021 - 05:14pm

The Long March 5B core stage’s orbital inclination of 41.5 degrees means the rocket body passes a little farther north than New York, Madrid and Beijing and as far south as southern Chile and Wellington, New Zealand, and could make its reentry at any point within this area.

This morning's data on the altitude-versus-time of the Tianhe / CZ-5B objects. The core stage orbit continues to slowly decay as expected. pic.twitter.com/E8EPJ9yzRu

— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) May 4, 2021

2021 Spacenews, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Chinese Rocket Core Could End Up Landing in the Delaware Valley - Crossing Broad

Crossing Broad 04 May, 2021 - 02:24pm

No, it’s actually a wayward Chinese rocket, and it could be heading our way.

Last Wednesday, China launched its Long March 5B rocket to serve as the core module of its planned Tianhe Space Station. The core stage of the launcher detached from the module as planned, but there doesn’t appear to have been a safe maneuver to deorbit the core’s remnants for a controlled re-entry.

“This core stage is now also in orbit and is likely to make an uncontrolled reentry over the next days or week as growing interaction with the atmosphere drags it to Earth,” SpaceNews reported. “If so, it will be one of the largest instances of uncontrolled reentry of a spacecraft and could potentially land on an inhabited area.”

Weather forecasts over the coming days suggest that if the core were to crash somewhere in the United States, several locations appear to be in its path, according to Weatherboy.com:

Well isn’t this just great. I’m sure China just conveniently forgot to think about how they were going to “deorbit the core’s remnants for a controlled re-entry.” This may have been their plan all along, as revenge for Daryl Morey’s Hong Kong comments. Now everybody’s gotta be on alert. We don’t know where this damn thing is gonna land. Delco? Boyertown? On top of the Pagoda in Reading?

Best case scenario, the remnants come down in East Rutherford, obliterating the Giants practice facility (but not hurting anybody in the process). Then they lose out on vital offseason training and slump to a 0-17 regular season record, as DeVonta Smith goes for 4 touchdowns and 225 yards on 15 receptions spread out over two games.

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