Long March 5 Y2 Launcher. By 篁竹水声 - Own work, CC BY 4.0, link

Another 21 Ton Chinese Rocket Booster Set to Land Somewhere Random

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

h/t Vuk; A serious breach of space etiquette; According to Business Insider, China neglected to add a controlled re-entry package to their recent launch mission. An uncontrolled descent means large pieces of the truck size rocket could strike random locations at several miles per second, in a band of latitude stretching between Canada and Chile.

A huge rocket from China’s space-station launch could fall back to Earth totally uncontrolled


An enormous rocket body is shooting around the planet out of control, and it could fall back to Earth within the next few days.

The roughly 21-ton object is the core stage of China’s Long March 5b rocket. On Wednesday, China launched the first module of a new space station the country is building. Instead of falling into a pre-designated spot in the ocean, as is common for discarded rockets, the Long March 5b’s core stage started circling the planet, uncontrolled. 

The rocket body is likely to fall back to Earth sometime in the next few days, journalist Andrew Jones, who covers China’s space program, reported for SpaceNews.

“I think by current standards it’s unacceptable to let it reenter uncontrolled,” Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer who tracks objects orbiting Earth, told Jones. “Since 1990 nothing over 10 tons has been deliberately left in orbit to reenter uncontrolled.”

Read more: https://www.businessinsider.com.au/huge-chinese-rocket-stage-to-fall-to-earth-uncontrolled-2021-5

This is not the first time China has shown such lack of consideration. Pieces of a similar Chinese launch in 2020 are believed to have struck Africa.

The risk of someone getting hurt is very low, because places where humans are only represent a very small portion of our planet’s surface. But as Africa’s experience in 2020 demonstrates, very low is not the same as zero. At the very least, it seems kind of rude to put people at risk, however small the risk, because China couldn’t be bothered adding a small controlled re-entry package to eliminate the risk.

The USA routinely manages the descent of large pieces of space debris, to maximise the probability of the space debris landing somewhere uninhabited, like remote locations in the Pacific Ocean.

In my opinion this serial lack of consideration takes something away from what should be China’s triumph in successfully launching a major component of their new space station.

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John Tillman
May 3, 2021 2:06 pm

Apparently the CCP’s PR department has given up on winning hearts and minds and making friends.

Rud Istvan
Reply to  John Tillman
May 3, 2021 2:40 pm

With COVID-19, they already lost that battle. Why spend more pocket change on further attempts?
The message, whether this rocket, the South China Sea (Philippines), or Xinzhiang province (Uighers) is now that we are big, bad, and do as we please. There are growing resemblances to Germany behavior in the late 1930’s. And Biden is worse than Neville Chamberlain. At least Chamberlain was merely delusional, not yet demented.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
May 3, 2021 5:37 pm

Interesting too in your 1930s reference Rud, is that Adolf had the tacit support of Germany’s bureaucracies for his radical “new deal” policies, because the bureaucrats saw themselves as major beneficiaries of Adolf’s socialist state control mechanisms.

What’s different about the Biden regime?

John Tillman
Reply to  Rud Istvan
May 3, 2021 7:45 pm

The CCP tried to win friends and influence people after loosing COVID on the world by selling masks and vaccines. But the masks were faulty and the vaccines didn’t work. I know this from personal experience of having gotten Sinovac shots in Chile. So those charm offensives failed.

ChiComs however can still rely on their useful idiot allies in Western media to cover up the fact that the CCP ignored its responsibilities under WHO to be open, and let international flights from Wuhan go ahead, while restricting domestic flights. Not to mention persecuting the hero doctors in Wuhan who tried to warn their country and the world. Some died of WuWHOFlu, while others were merely disappeared.

Bryan A
Reply to  John Tillman
May 4, 2021 10:00 am

If your purpose is to loose a viral pandemic on an unsuspecting globe reducing populations in other countries thereby weakening them, why would you try to then protect them with functional masks and vaccines when the non-functional variety fulfills the function better?

Reply to  John Tillman
May 5, 2021 12:54 pm

Don’t forget the test kits that gave false positives for almost anything.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
May 3, 2021 9:58 pm

Really, a bit of China-bashing, and for good measure, a big heaped spoon of HITLEEEEERRR!!!
Keep to your knitting Istvan, politics is really not your thing.
I only wish your fans here had half as much moral fibre when it comes to Yammerika salting the earth all over the globe with depleted uranium. Let’s talk about the hundreds of thousands, millions of kids with genetic damage due to the brave soldiers of Zion’s Undeclared Soviets in the Americas burning their radioactive scrap metals on other peoples’ lands.
And if the little twit that swore at me last month because “depleted” means they “took the radioactivity out” chirps in, swear to your gods, I’ll come over and slap you!

David Guy-Johnson
Reply to  paranoid goy
May 3, 2021 11:16 pm

Little boys like you should stay clear of adult conversations. paranoid byname, idiot by nature

Reply to  David Guy-Johnson
May 4, 2021 12:05 am

Remember to report me to the Schul… Now off you go and play with your Johnson.

Rich Davis
Reply to  paranoid goy
May 4, 2021 4:46 pm

Pathetic moron, grow up.

Reply to  paranoid goy
May 4, 2021 10:02 am

show me on the GFY doll where he hurt you.

Rory Forbes
Reply to  paranoid goy
May 4, 2021 11:32 am

You just reminded me how much I loath anti-Semites. Pathetic, ignorant creatures that they are.

Reply to  paranoid goy
May 4, 2021 12:17 pm

You need to take a Radiation Biology class and quit posting the nonsense you just have.

Reply to  chemman
May 4, 2021 9:27 pm

Care to explain? Educate me, oh genius Radiation Biologist. All of you can quickly come up with insults, not a single one comes back with facts. It reminds me how much I loathe people who counter every criticism with “anti-Semite!!!”

Bryan A
Reply to  John Tillman
May 3, 2021 7:02 pm

Waddayawant…they’re C H I N A…
They don’t have to care
They’re the global climate champions mann…
They fart fairy dust…
They produce cheap useless throw away crap for the cheap useless throw away world…
…especially their solar panels and wind generators (which aren’t green)
They produce the largest amount of CO2 in the world (at least that creates true greening)
They create pandemics then blame everyone else…
Waddayawant…they’re C H I N A

Alan the Brit
Reply to  Bryan A
May 3, 2021 10:40 pm

I used to be a school governor, & the headteacher & her husband, who was in the UK Diplomatic Core, was based in China for many years! Their opinion of the Chinese? The ordinary people were warm & welcoming & friendly, the CCP Officianados? Cold, calculating, ruthless, regarded life (read peasants) as dirt cheap, expendable, & only useful to serve the CCP!!!

Reply to  Alan the Brit
May 4, 2021 3:01 am

hmm seems the upper classes(self defined by money etc) are pretty much the same everywhere then
major pollies in usa would fit that descriptor too thinkin hillarious n bidet pelosi etc

Reply to  ozspeaksup
May 4, 2021 9:38 pm

Which is why I say communism and capitalism has the exact same aim: concentrating all wealth into the One Account, and relegating the population to serfdom. In China they use guns, in America they use the stock market, both take money from the poor, and give it to the kakastcratic scum at the top, both use unassailable dogmatic propaganda to make you feel it’s your duty to participate, and dissent makes you an Enemy of the State.
It is time we stop “choosing between the two”.

Reply to  John Tillman
May 3, 2021 9:08 pm

Where-ever it lands will mark the location of the next “this now belongs to us” island building project.

Reply to  John Tillman
May 5, 2021 1:12 pm

Send a team out and bring back what appears to be a secret piece of the Chinese launch rocket.

Secret in that the object is kept hidden with lots of guards around it. Or at least guys in good suits wearing dark sunglasses, earpieces, lapel microphones and obvious bulges under their pits.
Take the object to a top secret location, Area 51 perhaps.

Leak some info showing American, French, German, Japanese scientists rushing to the location.

Leak words like “stunning revelations”, “Chinese rocket booster designs”, Chinese alloy, etc.

The problem should solve itself soon.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
May 7, 2021 8:30 am

Not controlling descent of a huge rocket booster shows reckless disregard of human life, but less so than working with lethal, infectious bat viruses in a BSL-2 rather than BSL-4 lab.

Not to mention lying about and covering up the outbreak, contrary to WHO treaty obligations, not letting foreign investigators see lab records, and stopping domestic flights, while letting international flights continue.

Not just irresponsible, but criminal. What you’d expect from a gen0cidal regime.

Last edited 1 year ago by John Tillman
May 3, 2021 2:21 pm

If anyone gets hit, it will chalked up as yet another CoViD death.

Reply to  AWG
May 3, 2021 3:12 pm

Only if they’re infected.

Reply to  Ric Werme
May 3, 2021 4:01 pm

Infected and politically congruent. Case-in-point: George Floyd, a criminal on the lam, a drug overdose, and a once-in-time Covid-19 case.

Reply to  n.n
May 3, 2021 5:31 pm

The accusation insisted George Floyd had very high SaO2 so… no COVID death, or anything similar;

Alan Robertson
Reply to  niceguy
May 4, 2021 4:13 am

“…very high SaO2…”

Doug Huffman
Reply to  niceguy
May 5, 2021 3:40 am

SaO2 is clinical ABG not often taken from a corpse. The dead tell no tales, let God sort ‘em out.

Reply to  Ric Werme
May 4, 2021 2:46 am

Don’t have to be infected, they just list it that way and get a check from USG.

Reply to  Ric Werme
May 4, 2021 8:43 am

They’ll run enough cycles to guarantee it 🙂

John Tillman
Reply to  Ric Werme
May 4, 2021 10:37 am

Run enough PCR reps and a remnant fragment of a long-ago cold virus will test positive for COVID.

Reply to  Ric Werme
May 5, 2021 1:01 pm

With so many alleged COVID-19 tests coming back false positive, that isn’t true.

Reply to  AWG
May 3, 2021 5:10 pm

For when it just ain’t CoVid:

Alan the Brit
Reply to  gringojay
May 3, 2021 10:42 pm

The sentiment I applaud, the practice not so much!!! ;-))

Alan Robertson
Reply to  Alan the Brit
May 4, 2021 4:27 am

Composting human remains is the new thing, don’tcha know.

Reply to  AWG
May 4, 2021 12:27 pm

AWG ==> Yes, the dead will be counted as a Covid-19 death based on having “recent contact with something from a country still experiencing Covid infections.”

Steve Case
May 3, 2021 2:33 pm

May 3, 2021 2:36 pm

It’ amazing the CCP Commies can even get anything up into orbit, with the amount of lead they put in everything. More Chinese Junks to fall from the sky. You would think they could read the directions that they stole from us.

Bryan A
Reply to  Earthling2
May 3, 2021 7:07 pm

Even their sail boats are Junk

Ron Long
May 3, 2021 2:47 pm

China is going their own way, with militarizing the South China Sea, Belt and Road, getting closer to bringing Taiwan into control, agreeing to CO2 reductions then building about a thousand new coal-fired power plants, and trapping the Biden Crime Family into errors wherein they represent control by extortion. What next? Whatever they want. The surprise to me is that Russia is willing to keep quiet and watch. Think about their neighbor to the south causing all this alarm. By the way, I hope the uncontrolled reentry produces a great light show and doesn’t do any damage. Wait for it.

Carlo, Monte
Reply to  Ron Long
May 3, 2021 3:34 pm

Taiwan should be ready to sabotage/demolish all their semiconductor fab lines, and publicize a promise to pull the pin if the PRC attacks.

Joseph Zorzin
Reply to  Eric Worrall
May 3, 2021 4:48 pm

I should think invading Taiwan won’t be easy. I would think that Taiwan has been planning on this for over 70 years. They must have huge numbers of anti aircraft and and anti ship missles- and a respectable air force. There must be a lot of nice targets on the mainland- industries, rail roads, dams. I wouldn’t be surprised America has helped Taiwan plan how to make such an invasion very expensive for the CCP. Maybe not, I dunno.

Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
May 3, 2021 6:47 pm

Problem is the US has not been selling them our best export weapons systems for decades now. Boeing to the wishes of the PRC.

John Tillman
Reply to  Rah
May 3, 2021 7:48 pm

That changed under Trump. Taiwan has now gotten the good stuff.

Reply to  John Tillman
May 4, 2021 5:59 am

Though Trump upped the sales the fact is that our sales are limited by treaty to those weapons and systems of a defensive nature only. Thus you won’t see lots of our most effective hardware being sold to Taiwan.

For example right now I would bet they would love to have a bunch of our best CBUs (Cluster Bomb Units) on hand. Deadly suckers that work great on a large variety of different targets and in fact one of the best Weaseling weapons also. But you won’t see CBUs on the list of stuff sold to them.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  rah
May 4, 2021 8:47 am

In 2020 Trump made agreements to sell Taiwan new M1 tanks, Apache helicopter upgrades to their existing Apaches, new Javelin anti-tank missiles, new Harpoon anti-ships missiles and advanced SLAM-ER long-range air to surface missiles with 40 new F-16s to fire them from. Some of those weapon deliveries will start in 2022, with most, like the Harpoons, F-16s and SLAM-ERS coming in 2023 and beyond. If Taiwan gets those, then President Xi’s military option to take Taiwan by force becomes exceedingly risky with certain very high losses for the PLA, and its naval forces.
That is one reason why I think President Xi has decided to act soon rather than let Taiwan arm itself.

John Tillman
Reply to  rah
May 4, 2021 10:41 am

Taiwan makes its own cluster munitions.

Abrams tanks can be used either offensively or defensively, but the Republic of China would have to invade Red China to use them on offense.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
May 4, 2021 11:33 am

Long-range, air-launched, land-attack cruise missile with cluster munition payload arms RoC’s Indigenous Fighter:


Jean Parisot
Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
May 4, 2021 11:07 am

You would have to assume Taiwan is about four turns of a torque wrench from being a nuclear power; along with ROK, Japan, Australia and Singapore. Could you honestly trust the US to be a faithful ally?

Joseph Zorzin
Reply to  Jean Parisot
May 4, 2021 12:04 pm

Would you argue that it hasn’t been?

Reply to  Eric Worrall
May 3, 2021 5:32 pm

If they were smart, they would have been building back doors on those chips they make.

Reply to  Eric Worrall
May 3, 2021 6:46 pm

Respectfully disagree. There are about 3,000 families in control of the CCP. I expect the Taiwanese know where 95% of them live and already have them targeted. Asymmetric warfare, indeed. Cheers –

John Tillman
Reply to  agimarc
May 3, 2021 7:49 pm

Unfortunately, China is riddled with 3000 miles of ICBM tunnels and bunkers for the CCP leadership.

Alan the Brit
Reply to  Carlo, Monte
May 3, 2021 10:55 pm

At least the CCP have been reasonably honest! They are the Peoples’ Republic of China, but not of course the “People’s Democratic Republic of China”! Not that it would make the slightest difference in the long run. I’ve said this many times before, whenever I here that a country, for many & varied reasons, (usually bloody revolution), call themselves the People’s Democratic whatever, the very last thing they usually are, is for the people, or democratic!!!! The opposite is invariably true!!!!

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  Alan the Brit
May 4, 2021 9:57 am

“People’s” is still every bit as dishonest though. I hear what you’re saying about “Democratic” but suggesting the “Republic” is the “People’s” Republic is the same lie in a slightly less garish wrapper.

Pillage Idiot
Reply to  Ron Long
May 3, 2021 3:35 pm

Since China is militarizing to their advantage, how about habituating the world to disregard large pieces of space hardware coming down?

Add a small nuke designed for maximum EMP damage, and then “accidentally land” the 8th launch on someone you consider a hostile power when the time is right.

P.S. I know I am a paranoid bastard, but am I paranoid enough?

Burl Henry
Reply to  Pillage Idiot
May 3, 2021 7:06 pm

Pillage Idiot:

Perhaps the piece of space hardware is really under control–if it hits a sensitive area they can chalk it up to an unfortunate accident.

Reply to  Ron Long
May 3, 2021 5:14 pm

I’m curious about what CO2 reductions you believe China “agreed” to? With the Paris accords, they just committed to thinking about restricting their CO2 sometime, maybe.

Ron Long
Reply to  Spetzer86
May 3, 2021 5:51 pm

China committed to being carbon neutral by 2060, according to the New York Times, December, 2020. This was a mixture of support for Biden and a cheap throw-away gesture intended to get the USA back into the Paris Accords.

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  Spetzer86
May 4, 2021 10:02 am

Under “Paris” I believe China committed to “capping” their emissions GROWTH by 2030. And you can bet your last dollar that said “commitment” will be either subject to unilateral “renegotiation” which will kick the can down the road or summarily ignored when that “commitment date” rolls around.

Meanwhile, it continues to serve as a lever to push “western” nations further down the path of economic suicide, while the CCP laughs at their stupidity.

May 3, 2021 2:49 pm

“In my opinion this serial lack of consideration takes something away from what should be China’s triumph in successfully launching a major component of their new space station.”

Maybe landing uncontrolled rocket stages, is a way to draw attention to their new space station. But I am still not interested in their station.

Reply to  gbaikie
May 3, 2021 3:19 pm

LORAL and the Clinton Admin sold China the technology to safely get into space but not technology to get safely back down. Yeah, you, Billy and Bernie, bastids!!!

May 3, 2021 2:56 pm

I remember when Skylab (76 tons) came down. There was speculation about where it would land. I was living in Perth at that time, and thought the chances of it landing anywhere near me were remote.

It came down near Esperance, about 500 km from Perth. But their information was out of date. I had already left.

Alastair Brickell
Reply to  Nick Stokes
May 3, 2021 3:10 pm

Yes, and I think the Esperance council charged NASA with pollution or littering and actually got some money from them! There are still bits of Skylab that you can see in the museum there (mostly insulation form memory?).

Good luck with trying that with the PRC!

CD in Wisconsin
May 3, 2021 3:04 pm

“A serious breach of space etiquette; According to Business Insider, China neglected to add a controlled re-entry package to their recent launch mission. An uncontrolled descent means large pieces of the truck size rocket could strike random locations at several miles per second, in a band of latitude stretching between Canada and Chile.”

In my view, this is a reflection of why I try to avoid buying anything made in China when I can avoid it. The Chinese seem to have a tendency to cut corners and sacrifice quality in an effort to minimize cost whenever and wherever they can.

This posting seems to to suggest they cut corners in their space program as much as they sacrifice quality in their manufactured goods. When I have no choice but to buy Chinese-made, I do not expect it to last more than a year or two at best. It regularly causes me to lament the loss of U.S. manufacturing to China. You get what you pay for.

May 3, 2021 3:11 pm

“An uncontrolled descent means large pieces of the truck size rocket could strike random locations at several miles per second”

Uh, no. Well, maybe a big chunk of some super dense metal. Maybe aerodynamically shaped tungsten – it has such high melting and vaporization points it might survive, but several miles per second is awfully fast. One mile per second is Mach 5….

Ron Long
Reply to  Ric Werme
May 3, 2021 5:58 pm

Space debris starts into the atmosphere at 18,000 miles per hour. 18,000 divided by 60 is 300 miles per minute, then divided again by 60 for seconds is 5 miles per second. Think about a satellite in offset circum-polar orbit, The earth is about 25,000 miles around and the satellite is up a ways, so the 18,000 mph number sounds correct.

Ron Long
Reply to  Ron Long
May 3, 2021 5:59 pm

Sorry, an orbit takes a bout 90 minutes. My bad.

Greg S.
Reply to  Ron Long
May 3, 2021 6:53 pm

Does the Earth suddenly not have an atmosphere? There will be immense aerodynamic drag upon re-entry that increases as its altitude decreases. Anything that doesn’t get incinerated on the booster won’t be going anywhere close to “several miles per second” when it impacts the surface. This isn’t a giant meteor that can punch through the atmosphere and retain more of its speed. You’re probably looking close to 1/2 km/s (~1100 mph), if that, supposing it retains most of its mass. Still not something that should be allowed to happen in an uncontrolled fashion.

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Ric Werme
May 3, 2021 6:04 pm

Graphite-epoxy (even fiberglass) overwrapped pressure tanks are commonly found to have survived atmospheric reentry from decaying orbital altitudes.

Things don’t need to be comprised of “super dense” material in order to survive atmospheric reentry of a large body if they are buried deep within such body because the outer material acts as “ablative” protection to a large extent during the worst aero-thermal heating.

One of many “lessons learned” from the Space Shuttle Columbia debris recovery and previous reentry debris fields (e.g., Skylab).

Last edited 1 year ago by Gordon A. Dressler
May 3, 2021 3:24 pm

I imagine that Skylab Protective Helmets (no injuries!) will work just as well with Chinese space debris.


Reply to  Ric Werme
May 3, 2021 3:45 pm

Absolutely hilarious at the time.
Now is a great time for these helmets to make a comeback.

+1 for a great Blast From The Past.

No one
May 3, 2021 3:36 pm

If someone points skyward with an exclamation of “What’s that!”, don’t look up with your mouth open.

Any one know how do a third party forced re-entry that won’t potentially make things worse?

Are you listening Elon?

May 3, 2021 5:01 pm

It was planned to give China an opportunity to demonstrate their A-SAT weapon to the world by bringing it down in multiple pieces over some disagreeable country!

May 3, 2021 5:16 pm

“The risk of someone getting hurt is very low, because places where humans are only represent a very small portion of our planet’s surface.”

Doesn’t quite scan. But wouldn’t that be only if they really did care, and didn’t lie about what was in the payload? What if it was another, biological follow up attack? Wouldn’t the vaguely South-North, Pacific coast reentry line make a great spread vector?

Welcome your new world President Pooh, demonstrating his global reach of military power.

Last edited 1 year ago by dk_
Reply to  dk_
May 3, 2021 10:17 pm

does scan

May 3, 2021 5:20 pm

Evidently China has not been given or stolen enough to be civil.

Joseph Zorzin
May 3, 2021 5:21 pm

Sky News Australia
“China has already revealed plans to ‘unify Taiwan by force’”

Gordon A. Dressler
May 3, 2021 5:54 pm

(Red) China and etiquette in the same article . . . are you kidding me?

May 3, 2021 6:42 pm

A bully doing what bullies do. It’s that simple.

Tom Abbott
May 3, 2021 6:52 pm

It sounds like the core stage of China’s Long March 5b rocket got pretty close to going into orbit itself.

I wonder: The Space Shuttle External Tank had an estimated 15 to 20 tons of propellants left in the tank when the Space Shuttle separated from it. If the Space Shuttle remained attached to the ET, using that extra propellant in the ET along with a little extra push from Shuttle engines could take that ET right into orbit with the Space Shuttle.

So does the Chinese Long March 5b have enough propellant left over to put itself into orbit?

The Chinese claim they are going to build a demonstration Solar Power Satellite in orbit by the year 2030. They are going to need some building materials in space. A Long March 5b is a lot of building material.

When is NASA going to build a Solar Power Satellite in orbit? After the Chinese do it?

Reply to  Tom Abbott
May 3, 2021 9:47 pm

does the Chinese Long March 5b have enough propellant left over to put itself into orbit?” That’s exactly the problem; it put itself into orbit, so no one knows where it will come down. And indeed it has to put itself into orbit, because there is no second stage–it’s sort of like the Atlas 1, which had a center engine plus two side engines that dropped off during flight. The early Sputniks were similar–what most people saw when Sputnik 1 passed overhead was not the small satellite, but the much larger booster.

BTW, are you sure about the amount of propellant left over in the Shuttle’s external fuel tank? This site: https://www.permanent.com/ext-tank.htm says maybe a ton of hydrogen and six tons of oxygen; other sites say even less, although I would imagine it varied.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  mcswelll
May 5, 2021 4:09 am

“BTW, are you sure about the amount of propellant left over in the Shuttle’s external fuel tank?”

Noone is sure. All we have are estimates. I gave one. There are others.

There were lengthy discussions of the Space Shuttle and its launch system on Usenet in the discussion group “sci.space.policy”, if anyone is interested.

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Tom Abbott
May 4, 2021 7:23 am

Tom posted “. . . using that extra propellant in the ET along with a little extra push from Shuttle engines could take that ET right into orbit with the Space Shuttle.”

Due to atmospheric drag, the lowest altitude at which a “typical” ballistic object in a circular orbit can complete at least one full revolution without propulsion is approximately 150 kilometres (93 statute miles). For a Space Shuttle ET, the lowest such altitude is likely higher, say about 100 statute miles, due to its very low ballistic coefficient.

The basic problem is that “little extra push” . . . it would only be sufficient to put the Shuttle ET into a very low orbit where atmospheric drag is still high enough to cause orbital decay to reentry within several days to several weeks (unless continuous thrust is being provided along the velocity vector).

The Space Shuttle reached much higher orbital altitudes (140 statute miles or more), specifically to be above most of the sensible atmosphere, so as to avoid atmospheric drag that would necessitate frequent rocket engine firings to maintain orbital altitude.

Even at an average orbiting altitude of 250 miles, the ISS still has to use about about 19,000 pounds of propellant a year to prevent orbital decay to a critical point. (https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition26/iss_altitude.html#:~:text=%E2%80%9CEssentially%2C%20we%20want%20to%20fly,increases%20with%20solar%20cycle%20activity.&text=At%20its%20current%20altitude%2C%20the,to%20maintain%20a%20consistent%20orbit. ) This “drag make-up” propellant is provided from a combination of (a) propellant mass stored onboard the ISS (being periodically replenished) and associated ISS delta-V rocket engines, and (b) from rocket engine firings of axial engines aboard cargo and crew transportation ships docked in positions to provide +delta-V to ISS before they undock for their own reentry.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Gordon A. Dressler
May 5, 2021 4:36 am

The thought experiment about putting an ET in orbit along with the Space Shuttle was predicated on the Space Shuttle having an empty cargo bay. In other words, the sole purpose of the launch would have been to put the ET in orbit. That would enable the Shuttle to take the ET to a higher orbit.

Of course, if one is going to try to use ET’s in orbit, it will require that the ET be able to maintain its orbit, and if a large number of ET’s are going to be used (which was my aim), say to build a space station that looks like the one in the movie: 2001: A Space Odyssey”, then this scenario would require an orbital transfer vehicle and its supporting infrastructure.

My real aim wasn’t to build a 2001 space station, but to use ET’s as Earth-orbiting space stations, and to use them to put a space station ir orbit aroud the Moon and use one or more as a base on the Moon, and put one or more in orbit around Mars. The ET’s were perfect for conversion into habitat modules.

Use two ET’s and connect each one to the end of a cable one mile long, and then rotate these two ET’s around their common center at one revolution per minute and this will produce artificial gravity (centrifugal force) at the ET habitat modules equivalent to the gravity at the surface of the Earth. The formula is:1 + 1 = 1 One mile in diameter, plus one revolution per minute, equals one Earth-gravity.

Humans need artificial gravity if they are going to live in space.

It was impossible to get NASA bureaucrats to think BIG back then. The only thing they thought big about was their budget.

I wonder if the Chinese NASA can think BIG?

We are getting real close to needing an orbital transfer vehicle now. I wonder who will build the first one? Private enterprise or NASA? Or the Chinese?

Space is starting to get crowded, entreprenuers are wanting their piece of it, and we have big construction projects to do in the Earth/Moon system like putting a base on the Moon and building Solar Power Satellites.

Is NASA thinking this big? I bet someone there is, but is it the right person, one who has the ability to make things happen? Time will tell. Perhaps a little Chinese competition will wake the bureaucrats at NASA up.

I wonder if Musk can put his big booster in orbit? 🙂

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Tom Abbott
May 5, 2021 8:03 am

“The thought experiment about putting an ET in orbit along with the Space Shuttle was predicated on the Space Shuttle having an empty cargo bay. In other words, the sole purpose of the launch would have been to put the ET in orbit. That would enable the Shuttle to take the ET to a higher orbit.”

I cannot imagine a more expensive way to have put the Shuttle ET into Earth orbit (say at an altitude of ISS, about 250 miles) than by having it as the sole “payload” of a STS mission.

Kenneth C Mitchell
May 3, 2021 7:13 pm

The PRC doesn’t CARE where it lands; they wouldn’t even care if it landed back in China.

Reply to  Kenneth C Mitchell
May 3, 2021 9:50 pm

There’s an old Tom Lehrer song about a certain German rocket scientist working for the US. One of the lines (sung with a strong German accent) is “I don’t care vere zey come down, zat’s not my department says __ __ __.”

Steve Z
Reply to  Kenneth C Mitchell
May 4, 2021 8:29 am

According to news reports, its current orbit is inclined 41 degrees to the equator, and sometimes passes over Beijing. Although it’s unlikely, having it land on CCP headquarters would be great karma!

The CCP is now showing their blatant disregard for human life, first with the Wuhan Flu developed in their lab, now allowing a 20-ton rocket to crash down from orbit at random.

During the US space program, from the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and space shuttle programs, booster rockets always splashed down in the Atlantic east of Cape Canaveral, and ships were warned to stay out of that area immediately after launches.

If China launches its satellites toward the east, they can safely drop their rockets into the entire Pacific Ocean, as long as they avoid Japan and the Philippines. Why can’t the Chinese put a little extra fuel on their rockets, used to push them toward the earth out of orbit, so they splash harmlessly into the Pacific?

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  Steve Z
May 4, 2021 10:11 am

That would truly be an example of “hoist by your own petard,” eh? President-for-life Xi having his end of life caused by his own space junk he was too cheap to put some re-entry control on!

high treason
May 3, 2021 7:48 pm

The Communist Party in China just tells you what you want to hear. Then, they just do whatever they want. They have promised to go carbon neutral, but I will bet that will be either flagrantly ignored (thus giving them a considerable economic advantage over idiots like us in Australia that actually try to comply with the suicide pact) or use fanciful covers and feeble, pithy excuses to ignore their promises.
It is just typical of China to simply not give a toss about the safety of anyone or anything. They don’t have any respect for human life, so it comes as no surprise that they would neglect to have safe re-entry devices.
It is interesting that they recognise humans occupy a relatively small amount of the planet, so the chances of actually killing someone are very low, yet they are perfectly happy going along with the claim that human CO2 (all of 3% of the increase) is going to destroy the planet and we western nations must stop producing it. It is a conflict of interest that puts them at a competitive advantage.
If it so happens that someone gets killed or injured by the debris, just what are the chances of getting adequate compensation? They will just claim vaccine experiments were being done on their space lab, so they are exempt from liability.
Latitide band suggests that the vast majority of human populations is at risk of being struck, albeit tiny.
Hopefully a large piece lands on top of and kills some Communist political figure-Daniel Andrews for example.

Reply to  high treason
May 4, 2021 3:22 am

upvoted for the Dan dr-ooze line;-)

John Tillman
Reply to  high treason
May 4, 2021 11:13 am

Melbourne might lie too far south.

David Sulik
May 3, 2021 7:52 pm

GRAVITY WINS! … pieces of the truck size rocket WILL strike random locations…

May 3, 2021 7:58 pm

Falling Chinese booster rockets?

I plan to wear my lucky fishing hat… just in case. I wouldn’t want to get a dent in my good, aluminum hardhat.

Climate believer
May 3, 2021 11:16 pm

So this is still a developing country?

Ed Zuiderwijk
May 4, 2021 1:12 am

China itself is under the orbit. What are the chances of a 12 ton piece of space junk made in China crashing into the great hall of the people?

For comparison: imagine a city under siege, with besiegers 10 miles away. It has a zoo with in it one elephant. What are the odds that the very first shot fired undirectly from 10 miles hits the elephant and kills it? Answer: better than you think; it happened at the beginning of the siege of Leningrad during WWII.

May 4, 2021 2:50 am

A few Aegis missle frigates stationed along the line and it is not a problem.

May 4, 2021 2:57 am

they dont give a sh*t is why
hope it lands in Xis place myself

Rich Davis
Reply to  ozspeaksup
May 4, 2021 5:06 pm

They don’t give a Xit?

Doug Huffman
May 4, 2021 4:08 am
Bruce Cobb
May 4, 2021 4:16 am

I shoot rocket into the air
It fall to earth, I care not where
If you don’t like it this much is true
There’s someone you should meet
Her name is Fuk Yoo.

May 4, 2021 4:34 am

If it lands anywhere near my neighborhood, I will seize the stupid thing, have the neighborhood kids keep watch on it, and sue the pants out of the Chin-Chins for property damage (MASSIVE property damage). They won’t get it back unless they pay for it with a pallet loaded with American cash.

Steve Z
Reply to  Sara
May 4, 2021 8:32 am

Sara, you would wait a LOOOOOONG time for any yuans from China. Did they ever buy back the one that landed on Ivory Coast?

Mark Thomas
May 4, 2021 4:47 am

China understands risk ….. What, less than 1 in a million, 100 million,
its going to kill anyone. Man up folks, China is saying “game on!”
Anyone thinking that China ‘should’ be more sensible is lost and weak with a moral blindfold.

May 4, 2021 4:50 am

par for the course… since when do commies care about the people?

Mark Thomas
May 4, 2021 4:58 am

A Star Trek moment ……


This is the new frontier, no one occupies the moon or mars yet …..

AGW is Not Science
May 4, 2021 9:47 am

“John Belushi” and “Skylab” come to mind for some reason. ;-D

Ed Zuiderwijk
May 4, 2021 10:06 am
Jean Parisot
May 4, 2021 11:02 am

Back in my BMDO days, we would refer to these as training opportunities (for tracking only :)).

Matthew Schilling
May 5, 2021 9:13 am

Further anecdotal evidence of the sloppiness of the Communists in China when it comes to doing 21st Century tasks, like running a hi-tech lab that performs gain-of-function activities on a coronavirus.

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