February 4, 2023

A runaway Chinese rocket booster will hurtle back toward Earth on Sunday — and could land in populated areas, experts say.

The falling space debris is the result of the July 24 launch of Long March 5B to deliver the Wentian experiment module to China’s Tiangong space station.

Weighing in at about 22 metric tons (about 48,500 lb), it will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere at 12:24 AM BST on Sunday, according to Aerospace Corporation at 16 hours anyway.

The US nonprofit, which is tracking the debris, has marked a huge area of ​​the Earth where the debris could fall, but said it’s “too early” to know exactly where.

More than 88 percent of the world’s population lives below the potential return zone, which spans all of Africa, India, Australia and Central America.

Aerospace Corporation has marked a huge area of ​​the Earth where the debris could fall, thousands of miles north and south of the equator. The yellow icon indicates where the rocket debris will be halfway through the reentry window – a possible point where the debris will hit Earth, although it’s ‘too early’ to know for sure where it will land

Aerospace Corporation said “there is a non-zero chance” that the debris will land in a populated area — in other words, it’s not impossible, so it could happen.

“A reentry of this magnitude will not burn up in Earth’s atmosphere,” says Aerospace Corporation, based in El Segundo, California.


On Sunday (July 24), China launched a new module for its space station on a Long March 5B rocket.

Unfortunately, the rocket’s booster — which weighs 22 tons (about 48,500 lb) — has already reached low Earth orbit and is expected to tumble back to Earth.

Aerospace Corporation says the rocket booster will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere at 12:24 am BST on Sunday, 16 hours in either direction.

See also  Emotional Kyle Chalmers reveals ‘it took all my courage’ to swim after his shock press conference

Aerospace Corporation said “there is a non-zero chance” that the debris will land in a populated area — in other words, it’s not impossible, so it could happen.

“The general rule of thumb is that 20-40 percent of the mass of a large object will reach the ground, although it depends on the design of the object.”

But according to Aerospace Corporation adviser Ted Muelhaupt, the overall risk to people and property on the ground is quite low, given that 75 percent of the Earth’s surface in the potential return area is water, desert or jungle.

Speaking during a briefing streamed live to Twitter On Thursday, Muelhaupt also said there is a “99.5% chance that nothing will happen.”

“Personally, if this got on my head I’d run out with a camera to check it out because I think it’s more of a visual [opportunity] than a real risk,’ he said.

Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, added: “The worst case in this case will be less serious than a single cruise missile attack we saw every day in the war in Ukraine, so let’s put it here.” in any perspective.’

It is possible that part of the 21-ton Long March 5B rocket will not burn up completely when it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere.

It would then plunge to the surface in an uncertain location and at great speed — hundreds of miles per hour.

The problem with China’s missiles is rooted in the risky design of the country’s launch process.

Usually, discarded rocket stages re-enter the atmosphere shortly after takeoff, normally above water, and do not go into orbit. However, the Long March 5B rocket does.

China has previously dismissed accusations of irresponsibility, with China’s foreign ministry saying the chances of damage to anything or anyone on the ground are “extremely low.”

Many scientists agree with China that the likelihood of debris causing serious damage is slim, though others think launch designs like the Long March 5B pose an unnecessary risk.

Last May, one of the country’s Long March 5B missiles broke up on reentry over the Indian Ocean north of the Maldives.

The Long March 5B had launched Tianhe, the first building block of China’s new space station, into orbit in April.

There were concerns that it could impact a populated area on land, although it eventually fell into the ocean.

NASA administrator Bill Nelson criticized Beijing, stressing that it was “critical” for China and other countries to “act responsibly and transparently in space.”

“Spacefaring nations should minimize the risks to people and property on Earth from the re-entry of space objects and maximize transparency regarding those operations,” he wrote in a statement.

The Wenchang Space Launch Center is a rocket launch site in Hainan Island, China

The Tiangong Space Station, currently under construction, can be seen in this artistic rendering

Wentian, a research lab dedicated to science and biology experiments, is already docked with the main body of the space station, called Tianhe.

It will be followed by a second research lab module, Mengtian, to be launched in October this year.

When Mengtian bonds with the rest of Tiangong, construction of the space station will finally be complete, although Beijing also plans to launch Xuntian, a space telescope that would run alongside the space station, in 2024.

See also  Randi Weingarten admits teachers are social justice warriors as she attacks Republicans

Tiangong (meaning “heavenly palace”) will rival the aging International Space Station (ISS), operated by the space agencies of the US, Canada, Russia, Japan and Europe.

It will consist of three modules, although two other spacecraft – Shenzhou and Tianzhou – carrying crew and cargo respectively, can also dock at the station.

When completed, the Tiangong space station will weigh about 66 tons, much smaller than the ISS, which launched its first module in 1998 and weighs about 450 tons.

The service life is expected to be at least 10 years.


China’s space station is called ‘Tiangong‘, which means ‘heavenly palace’.

Tiangong consists of several modules that are launched one by one.

In April 2021, the core module, called ‘Tianhe‘ was launched. The first crew arrived in Tianhe two months later.

In July 2022, Wentiana smaller module where research experiments will take place, linked to Tianhe.

In October 2022, a second research lab module, Mengtian, will also attach to Tianhe. If so, the Tiangong space station is complete.

Two more spacecraft that can dock at the station – Shenzhou and Tianzhou – transport crew and cargo respectively, and are not considered part of the station itself.

China also plans to launch Xuntiana space telescope that would run in tandem with the space station in 2024.

3D rendering of the Chinese space station or Tiangong space station as it will look like when fully built. Tianhe will be the main living quarters for three crew members. Shenzhou is an existing spacecraft that would dock at the station with crew. Tianzhou is an existing cargo spacecraft;