A Chinese rocket is set to return to Earth in the next few days, with concerns that it could rain the heavy craft down on several populated areas.
Chinese rocket to make uncontrolled re-entry and debris could fall on populated areas
The 21-ton object is the centerpiece of China’s Long March 5B rocket, which was launched Wednesday in China’s Hainan province.
Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer who chases terrestrial objects, told several media outlets, “I think from today’s standards it’s unacceptable to let it back in unchecked.”
“Since 1990, uncontrolled re-entry of more than 10 tons into orbit has not been allowed,” McDowell added.
If the rocket goes out of orbit, it can easily burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere.
However, large pieces of debris could survive the fall and rain down on inhabited areas if they do not reach the ocean.
Holger Krag, head of the European Space Organization’s space safety program office, stated, “It is always difficult to assess the amount of surviving mass and the number of fragments without knowing the design of the object, but a reasonable “rule of thumb” is around 20-40% of the original dry mass.”
China has already launched Long March 5B – which was developed for the launch of space station modules – once before, in May last year.
On that occasion, the rocket’s central stage also fell back to Earth uncontrolled, six days after the launch