A Chinese rocket weighing 21 tons is expected to uncontrollably fall down to Earth. Experts warn that it could land in populated areas.
The rocket, called the Long March 5B, launched into space last Wednesday and successfully completed its mission of delivering the core module of China’s space station, Tianhe, into orbit.
However, the 30-meter rocket also reached orbit. Now, experts worry it could make an uncontrolled landing in the next few days.
According to a Space News report, the core stage could be dragged down to Earth and potentially land in a populated area.
Spaceflight observer Jonathan McDowell told the publication, “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.”
The rocket is supposedly orbiting Earth every 90 minutes. It is passing just north of New York, Madrid and Beijing, and as far south as Chile and Wellington, New Zealand.
Once the rocket falls out of orbit, it will most likely burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. However, pieces of debris will likely fall.
Given the amount of Earth’s surface covered in water, the pieces will likely fall in the ocean, but there is a chance they could fall in an inhabited area.
“I think by current standards it’s unacceptable to let it reenter uncontrolled,” McDowell said.
“The core stage apogee continues to come down slowly. No new data today on Tianhe itself, which could indicate it made an orbit raising burn and tracking has lost it for now,” he said in a tweet.
Holger Krag, head of the Space Safety Programme Office for the European Space Agency, said, “It is always difficult to assess the amount of surviving mass and number of fragments without knowing the design of the object, but a reasonable ‘rule-of-thumb’ is about 20-40% of the original dry mass.”
China is scheduled to complete its space station by the end of 2022. Tiangong Space Station will orbit Earth at an altitude of 211 to 280 miles.