According to monitoring centers in Europe and the United States, the remnants of China’s largest rocket, launched last week, are expected to recede through the atmosphere in the next few hours.
The 18-tonne main segment of the Long March-5B rocket that launched the first module of the new Chinese space station into Earth orbit on April 29 is already releasing and experts have said it’s hard to say with precision where and when it will re-enter the environment.
China’s Foreign Ministry said Friday that most of the waste would be burned upon re-entry and was already it is very unlikely to cause any damage.
“The probability of causing damage … on the ground is very low,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters.
The U.S. Space Command estimated that re-entry would occur at 2:11 a.m. Sunday, about an hour, while the Center for Orbital Reentry and Debris Studies (CORDS) at Aerospace Corporation, a research and development center focused on the federally funded US space, it updated its two-hour forecast on both sides at 3:02 GMT with the rocket re-entering the Pacific.
EU Space Surveillance and Monitoring (EU SST) said its latest prediction for the time of the re-entry of the Long March 5B rocket body was 139 minutes on either side at 2:32 GMT on Sunday.
EU SST said the statistical probability of an impact on the ground in a populated area is “low,” but noted that the uncontrolled nature of the object made the predictions incredible.
Space-Track, which reports data collected by the U.S. Space Command, estimated that the waste would return to the Mediterranean basin.
Traveling at a speed of approximately 13.7 km per second, a difference of only one minute at the time of re-entry translates into a difference of hundreds of kilometers on the ground.
“This is difficult to predict and not an exact measure,” Space-Track wrote on Twitter.
The long March 5B, which includes a basic stage and four boosters, left the Chinese island of Hainan on April 29 with the unmanned Tianhe module, which contains what will become housing a Chinese permanent space station.
The rocket will be followed by 10 more missions to complete the station.
Most experts believe that the risk to people is low.
“Given the size of the object, large pieces will necessarily remain,” said Florent Delefie, an astronomer at the Paris-PSL Observatory.
“The odds of waste landing in an inhabited area are small, probably one in a million.”
In May 2020, parts of the first long March 5B fell on Côte d’Ivoire and damaged several buildings. No injuries were reported.
Wastes from Chinese rocket launch are not uncommon in China. In late April, authorities in Shiyan City, Hubei Province, issued a warning to the people of the surrounding county to prepare for the evacuation, as the parties were expected to land in the area. .
“The re-entry Long March 5B is unusual because during launch, the first stage of the rocket reached orbital speed instead of downgrading as is usual practice,” the Aerospace Corporation said in a blog post.
“The body of the empty rocket is now in an elliptical orbit around the Earth where it is crawling towards an uncontrolled re-entry.”
The hollow core stage has been losing altitude since last week, but the speed of its orbital decay remains uncertain due to unpredictable atmospheric variables.
It is one of the largest pieces of space debris that has returned to Earth, according to experts who estimate that its dry mass is about 18 to 22 tons.
The central stage of the first long March 5 that returned to Earth last year weighed about 20 tons, surpassed only by the debris of the Columbia space shuttle in 2003, the Soviet Union’s Salyut 7 space station on 1991 and NASA’s Skylab in 1979.