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May 7, 2021 - A huge piece of debris from China’s Long March 5B rocket launch is tumbling uncontrollably to Earth, prompting the White House to call for “responsible space behaviours”.
The remains of a 30-metre section of a recent Chinese rocket launch is expected to crash to Earth in the next few days, say scientists monitoring its flight path.
The core section of the Long March 5B rocket is tumbling out of control on a trajectory that takes it from New Zealand to New York, meaning it could strike anywhere between the 41°N and 41°S parallels.
Given its high speed – 27,880km/h, orbiting the Earth every 90 minutes – scientists have little idea where it will actually land.
However, those trying to keep an eye on it believe it could make re-entry in the skies above Sudan, with most of it hopefully burning up in the atmosphere. However, its 21-tonne-mass indicates some debris could reach the surface – possibly the Pacific Ocean near the Equator after passing over eastern U.S. cities.
The White House says it is committed to addressing the risks of growing congestion due to space debris and growing activity in space and wants to work with the international community to promote leadership and responsible space behaviours.
Somewhat predictably, China is playing down the whole affair, claiming that the thin-skinned aluminium-alloy exterior will easily burn up in the atmosphere, posing an extremely remote risk to people. But it has neither confirmed nor denied if the rocket is being controlled or is making an out-of-control descent.
The last time a Long March rocket was launched, in May 2020, long metal rods struck villages in the Ivory Coast, damaging some buildings.
- U.S. Space Command tracks Chinese rocket for uncontrolled re-entry from orbit (Reuters)
- Rocket debris from China's space station launch is hurtling back to Earth — and scientists aren't sure where it will land (CBS News)
- Falling Chinese rocket to crash to Earth on weekend as US calls for ‘responsible space behaviours’ (The Guardian)
- CZ-5B rocket body reentry prediction (Aerospace)