Wed. Jul 24th, 2024


The Long March 5B rocket, which carried a Chinese space station module, has dropped into low Earth orbit and now risks crashing back down.

The rocket successfully launched the Tianhe module last week, which will become the living quarters of the future Chinese Space Station (CSS). Unfortunately, the 30-metre long rocket also reached orbit, and is now one of the largest ever launches to make an uncontrolled re-entry.

It is uncommon for rockets to reach the velocity necessary to reach orbit, but it is currently travelling around the world once every 90 minutes, or seven kilometres every second. It passes by just north of New York, Madrid, and Beijing, and as far south as Chile and New Zealand.

There are fears that the rocket could land on an inhabited area; the last time a Long March rocket was launched in May 2020, debris was reported falling on villages in the Ivory Coast. The speed of the rocket means scientists still do not yet know when it will fall, but it is likely to do so before 10 May 2021.

China says rocket will come down in a ‘timely manner’ and ‘harm’ is unlikely

Here’s the latest from the Associated Press on China’s assurances that the rocket’s arrival will probably be safe:

China says the upper stage of its Long March 5B rocket that launched the core module of its space station will mostly burn up on re-entry, posing little threat to people and property on the ground.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbing said Chinese authorities will release information about the re-entry of the rocket, expected over the weekend, in a “timely manner”.

He said China “pays great attention to the re-entry of the upper stage of the rocket into the atmosphere”.

“As far as I understand, this type of rocket adopts a special technical design, and the vast majority of the devices will be burnt up and destructed during the re-entry process, which has a very low probability of causing harm to aviation activities and the ground,” Mr Wang said.

The largest section of the rocket that launched the main module of China‘s first permanent space station is expected to plunge back to Earth as early as Saturday at an unknown location.

Discarded rocket stages usually re-enter the atmosphere soon after lift-off, normally over water, and do not go into orbit.

China‘s space agency has yet to say whether the main stage of the huge Long March 5B rocket is being controlled or will make an out-of-control descent.

Estimate of impact continues to narrow

The latest predictions are narrowed even more. The estimate for re-entry is now at 4.19am UTC on Sunday.

But there is still a big window; it could be eight hours before or after that.

Where and when will the rocket hit? Possible impact time continues to narrow

As the re-entry approaches, the estimate of when exactly it might be narrows. The Aerospace Corporation has given its latest estimate, with a smaller window.

It says it should hit on Sunday morning UK time. But there’s still a big window either side: it could be as much as 11 hours before or after that.

Of course, that means that predicting where it might be is very difficult indeed, since it is moving so fast. But here’s the latest prediction that can at least give you some indication of what might be going on.

China says risk is ‘extremely low’

China’s foreign ministry has said that the risk of any harm is “extremely low”. Here’s a report from the Associated Press:

Most debris from a large Chinese rocket expected to plunge back through the atmosphere this weekend will be burned up on reentry and is highly unlikely to cause any harm, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Friday.

The U.S. military said on Wednesday what it called an uncontrolled re-entry was being tracked by U.S. Space Command. The Long March 5B rocketblasted off from China‘s Hainan island on April 29, carrying the unmanned Tianhe module, which contains what will become living quarters on a permanent Chinese space station.

The location of the rocket‘s descent into Earth’s atmosphere as it falls back from space “cannot be pinpointed until within hours of its reentry”, which is projected to occur around May 8, U.S. Space Command said.

Harvard-based astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell told Reuters this week there was a chance that pieces of the rocket could come down over land such as in May 2020, when pieces from another Chinese Long March 5B rocket rained down on the Ivory Coast, damaging several buildings.

He said potentially dangerous debris would likely escape incineration after streaking through the atmosphere at hypersonic speed but in all likelihood would fall into the sea, given that 70% of the world is covered by ocean.

Speaking in Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said China was closely following the rocket‘s reentry into the atmosphere, and that most of its components would be burned up upon re-entry.

“The probability of this process causing harm on the ground is extremely low,” he said.

Chinese paper defends secrecy over rocket and attacks US for ‘point-scoring’

“There is no evidence Beijing is acting irresponsibly in space,” argues this editorial from the South China Morning Post, which attempts to take against the widely-held opinion that the rocket is especially dangerous.

It also argues that many space agencies, not only China’s are secretive about their missions. China has been criticised in recent days for not revealing much about either the flight or the rocket, meaning it is difficult to know how it will fall and what will happen to it when it does.

And it says – as many others are – that the rocket will almost certainly be entirely safe and will probably land in the sea. But it also does accept that a similar rocket, last year, landed on houses in the Ivory Coast.

Russia says it is monitoring the rocket – but not to worry

Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, says it is tracking the rocket. But it should not cause damage – at least to Russia itself…

“Some of the rocket stage structures will cease to exist in dense layers of the atmosphere, but some incombustible structural elements may reach the earth’s surface,” an update on its site reads. “On May 7-8, there will be real probability of the point of impact. This situation will not hurt the territory of the Russian Federation.”

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By Chala Dandessa

I am Lecturer, Researcher and Freelancer. I am the founder and Editor at ETHIOPIANS TODAY website. If you have any comment use as email contact. Additionally you can contact us through the contact page of

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