- Debris from a Chinese space rocket will fall back to Earth sometime this weekend at an unknown location.
- The massive Chinese rocket booster travels at 27,000 kilometers per hour and weighs around 25 tons.
- Experts expect between 5 and 9 tons of material to fall from the sky.
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At this moment, a massive Chinese rocket is about to crash down to Earth. Experts say hunk of rocket junkcalled Long March 5B, is likely to hit Earth this weekend.
China’s rocket was launched on July 24 to deliver a laboratory module to China’s Tiangong space station, which is currently under construction. According to researchers at the Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Orbital Reentry and Debris Studies (CORDS), rocket debris is falling and will begin an uncontrolled re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere sometime on Saturday or Sunday.
There is “a non-zero probability that the surviving debris will land in a populated area,” CORDS researchers wrote on the center’s website.
Using tracking data, the researchers created a map that projects a potential field of locations for space debris re-entry, but the actual re-entry point is still uncertain. The blue and yellow lines indicate all the places where the rocket booster could fall.
The yellow satellite icon shows where the booster will be exactly in the middle of the 36-hour time window where it could possibly drop. (The icon is not a prediction of where the booster will land.)
This is the third time China has launched a Long March 5B and let its body fall uncontrollably to Earth. China is preparing to launch the rocket again in October, according to Space flight now.
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 with time. It’s actually weather up there. That makes it impossible to predict exactly at what point the satellite will have plowed through enough atmosphere to melt and break up and eventually come back in,” Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said at a Thursday briefing.
How fast the debris slides through space can lead to huge discrepancies in predictions, McDowell added. If you’re an hour off, “because it’s going 17,000 miles an hour, you’re 17,000 miles away where it’s going to come down, and that’s the big challenge with all of this,” he said.
Experts at The Aerospace Corporation say the general rule of thumb is that up to 40% of the mass of a large object will reach the ground. In this case, they expect between 5 and 9 tons of material to fall — up to 18,000 pounds.
Normally, after a launch, rockets push themselves into the atmosphere and fall back to Earth over remote ocean areas like the South Pacific – a process called “controlled re-entry”. It is not clear why China did not design or program the Long March 5B to do so.
“On the surface, it looks irresponsible. And it’s conceivable that they have enough technical data to know that it will come down in the South Pacific, even without being pressured to do so. It’s a possibility. But you knowing that having this big thing fall out of the sky would be ugly,” John Logsdon, the founder of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute and a former member of the NASA Advisory Council, told Insider.
If rocket parts land on people or their property, China could be on the hook for the damage. Under the 1972 Outer Space Liability Convention, 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 and long-term sustainability guidelines from the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space include recommendations to minimize the risk to people and property on Earth from uncontrolled re-entries, both of which have been supported by China. “The problem is that they are not very technical or specific, and they are also non-binding. There are no legal consequences for not taking the steps that are considered possible to mitigate the risk,” Dickey said at Thursday’s briefing .
“One thing I will look at closely in response to things like this re-entry is who are the actors – the countries, individuals and companies – publicly responding to this behavior and saying it’s irresponsible because it will indicate whether we”I want to be able to develop stronger or clearer norms for where the threshold between okay and not okay is,” Dickey said.
“They have participated in the UN discussions on rules of good conduct. And so they are certainly aware of the need for standards of conduct. Whether they willfully ignore it in this case – it is hard to believe that they would be irresponsible,” Logsdon said.
Debris from the Chinese rocket booster will plummet uncontrolled to Earth this weekend
Source link Debris from the Chinese rocket booster will plummet uncontrolled to Earth this weekend