A massive Chinese missile object is expected to fall to Earth this weekend, but that doesn’t mean you should rush into a bunker.
The doomed space junk mass is the main stage of the Long March 5B rocket fire a unit to China Tiangong space station Last Sunday (24 July). The latest predictions point to a 25-ton (22.5 metric tons) booster drop Saturday evening (July 30), although there is a very large margin of error in such estimates: plus or minus 16 hours at this point.
Most of the rocket will burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere, but a large part of it – about Five to nine metric tons (Opens in a new tab) (5.5 to 9.9 tons), according to the Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Orbital Reentry and Debris Studies — it will make it all the way. However, the odds of a piece infecting anyone are extremely small, given the amount of land covered by the ocean and sparsely populated land.
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There is a “99.5% chance that nothing will happen,” said Ted Mullhaupt, a consultant in the Chief Engineer’s office at The Aerospace Corporation, during a discussion about the upcoming Long March 5B crash that the company aired live today (July 28) on Twitter.
“Personally, if this came down on my head, I would run outside with a camera to watch it, because I think it would be more than visible. [opportunity] of actual risk.”
The surviving pieces of Long March 5B will travel several hundred miles per hour when they hit land (or water). Such influences will be active and destructive, but not disastrous.
“The worst case in this event would be less dangerous than a single missile strike that we see every day in Ukraine warLet’s put it in some perspective here, Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist and satellite tracker based at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said during today’s discussion.
All that said, the upcoming Long March 5B crash is a dangerous and unfortunate event, McDowell and others have emphasized, especially because it could have been avoided.
The base stages of most orbital rockets are directed to a safe demise in the ocean or over uninhabited land soon after liftoff, or in the case of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy Vehicles, descended for vertical landing and eventual reuse. However, Long March 5B’s core stage reaches orbit with its payload and remains there until it is brought down by air drag.
The big Chinese rocket now has three launches under its belt, so we’ve already seen two uncensored reruns of the Long March 5B. One of those events – after the April 2021 mission that lifted Tianhe, the core stage of the Tiangong Space Station – Occurred over an empty ocean. But the other, in May 2020, scattered some missile debris over West Africa, some apparently Hit the ground in Ivory Coast (Opens in a new tab).
As this incident shows, the potential for injuries and damage to infrastructure is largely out of control space junk Drops. And the higher the number of such accidents, the greater the chance of someone being injured or killed.
“You’re not going to win the lottery tonight, but somebody can, and that’s why these stats pile up,” Mullhaupt said. “We do more of those, we’re really putting someone at risk. And that’s not required. We have the technology, as the old saying goes, to avoid this. We’ve learned our lessons. We can control re-entry.”
China has not fully absorbed these lessons, as evidenced by the Long March 5B design. But McDowell is optimistic that the nation will join in before long.
“I see China slowly adopting the standards of other countries in space,” he said. “And I think it’s important to remember that they’ve been kind of behind in space activities. And so they’re catching up, and I think they’re catching up with the standards too.”
Mike Wall is the author of “Abroad (Opens in a new tab)Book (Great Grand Publishing House, 2018; illustrated by Carl Tate), a book on the search for extraterrestrials. Follow him on Twitter Tweet embed (Opens in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter Tweet embed (Opens in a new tab) or on Facebook (Opens in a new tab).
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