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
MORGAN MCFALL-JOHNSENMAY 1, 2021, 6:04 PM
- A Chinese rocket stage could fall to Earth totally uncontrolled in the next few days.
- The rocket, a Long March 5b, just launched the first piece of a new space station China is building.
- Uncontrolled deorbits like this can rain heavy chunks of rocket on populated areas.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
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.”
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.