The US Space Command said, early Friday morning, that pieces of a Chinese rocket stage weighing 23 tons have returned to Earth in the Pacific Ocean. In a pair of tweetss.
This was the last round of China’s celestial roulette which involved a deliberate, uncontrolled return to the atmosphere. The rocket stage, by design, did not include a system for directing it to a specific place on Earth, away from people.
This resulted in a tense observing of the skies around the world. As it did three times before in 2020, 2021 and earlier this year, China launched the Long March 5B missile, one of the most powerful rockets in operation today, on Monday to move it. The third and final unit of its Tiangong space stationwhich is the focus of the space program, which is second only to NASA in technological development.
Each time, China has successfully bet that the missile parts will not cause injuries to people on the ground. But while there were no immediate reports of damage, Friday’s re-entry caused disruption, including the closure of Spanish airspace that delayed hundreds of flights in the morning. It is expected that a missile of the same design will be used at least again in 2023.
Other space agencies and experts have criticized the four rocket launches. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson issued a statement criticizing the Chinese for not taking more precautions, as it did for similar launches in April 2021 and July of this year.
Mr Nelson said: “It is critical that all space-faring nations are accountable and transparent in their space activities, and that they follow established best practices, particularly with regard to the uncontrolled re-entry of a large missile object – debris that could very well lead to significant damage. or loss of life.
The Long March 5B booster isn’t the only man-made object, or even the largest, to ever fall from space. Pieces of spacecraft from other countries, including the United States, have also fallen back to Earth recently – including a small piece of SpaceX that appeared On an Australian sheep farm in August.
But experts stress that such incidents differ from China’s use of the Long March 5B missile.
“The thing I want to point out about this is that we, the world, do not knowingly launch things of this magnitude and intend them to fall anywhere,” Ted Mullhaupt, a consultant for Aerospace Corporation, a nonprofit group funded largely by the US government that conducts the research and analysis, she said at a press conference on Wednesday. “We haven’t done that in 50 years.”
However, on Friday, Zhao Lijian, a foreign ministry spokesman, dismissed the idea that China’s handling of Long March 5B missiles represented anything unusual. “I would like to stress that China has always carried out activities in the peaceful use of outer space in accordance with international law and practice – the re-entry of the last stage of the missile is an international practice,” he said.
Mr Zhao added that the Long March 5B was designed to pose a lower risk on return. The missile “is designed with special technology. Most of the components will burn and be damaged during the re-entry process, and the probability of harming flight and on-ground activities is very low,” he said.
On the same day Mr. Zhao spoke, Spanish civil aviation authorities closed and then reopened their airspace 120 miles wide along the projected path of the booster vehicle. The authorities said that closing the airspace for 40 minutes lasted 300 flights, an average of 30 minutes.
China manned space agency He issued a statement in the final hours before the core booster crashed, providing the height of the perihelion and the apogee of the orbit of the decaying core, along with the inclination of the orbit.
The US Space Command announced for the first time that the rocket stage has re-entered the South Central Pacific. in follow Spreadthe command said there was a second return to the northeast.
This indicates that the rocket stage broke in two as it entered the upper atmosphere, said Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who tracks man-made objects in low Earth orbit.
China’s Aerospace Engineering Bureau reported that the booster re-entered at 6:08 a.m. ET at a spot in the Pacific Ocean south of Mexico and west of Nicaragua.
“Most of the components were destroyed during re-entry,” the Chinese statement said.
The risk of falling debris depends on where you live.
Because of the direction of the orbit, if you live somewhere like Chicago or the far north – and that includes almost all of Europe and all of Russia – the odds of getting hit were always zero. As the last few orbits were completely absent from Asia and South America, no one on those two continents worried.
For people elsewhere, the chances of getting hit were minimal, though not completely non-existent.
“You have much better odds of winning the lottery” than hitting a piece of a Chinese missile, said Dr. Mullhaupt. “The risk to an individual is six per 10 trillion. That is a really small number.” (That is, if 10 trillion Chinese Long March 5B rocket boosters fall from the sky, six of them will hit you personally.)
And on Wednesday, he put the odds of all of Earth’s roughly eight billion people remaining unharmed at 99.5 percent.
Dr Muelhaupt said the 0.5 per cent chance of someone being injured or killed is “high enough that the world has to watch, prepare and take precautionary steps, and that has a cost, which is not necessary.”
China is currently relying on Long March 5B to carry its heaviest payloads into space. The rocket consists of a large central booster and four smaller side boosters. The side boosters drop shortly after launch, crashing unharmed into the Pacific Ocean. But, by design, the primary boost stage goes into orbit before its payload is deployed.
For this mission, the missile carried Mengtian, a science laboratory unit, for Chinese space station, Tiangong.
Mingtian docked at the orbital position of China on Tuesday. Designed to last at least 10 years, Tiangong is not the size of the International Space Station – it is more comparable in size to the Russian Mir space station that orbited from 1986 to 2001. But it will create a more permanent space base than previous Chinese space stations were planned, And more than 1,000 scientific experiments have in the coming years.
The Chinese rocket engineers who designed the Long March 5B did not include any way to direct the spent core booster into an empty part of the ocean.
Instead, the booster gradually decreases as it rubs against the filaments of the upper atmosphere. How fast it falls depends on the density of the air. This varies, because Earth’s atmosphere bulges outward when the sun is active, releases more charged particles, and contracts when the sun is quieter.
The re-entry of Chinese missiles has caused danger in the past. Two of the three previous launches of Long March 5B ended with large chunks of metal landing near populated areas. Although no one was injured, the proximity illustrates the risks.
On its first launch, in 2020, the booster made an uncontrolled re-entry over West Africa, where some debris fell on a village in Ivory Coast. After the third launch, in July, it was Uncontrolled re-entry event over Southeast Asiawith a landing cut in Malaysia.
“Once again, large pieces of metal fell close to where people were,” Dr. Mullhaupt said.
He said there was no indication that China had made any of the significant modifications to the missile design that would be required for controlled re-entry.
China has at least one more Long March 5B launch planned, next year, to put into orbit a space telescope, the Xuntian, that would rival it. NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.
It is possible that debris from American rockets and spacecraft will reappear on Earth, like the part of SpaceX’s spacecraft located in Australia.
But you don’t have to worry about the upcoming flight of NASA’s massive moon rocket, the Space Launch System, the agency says. The SLS, the largest rocket to fly since the Saturn V rocket used on the Apollo missions, is scheduled to make its first flight later this month. Its primary center travels roughly into orbit, but NASA officials said Thursday that its trajectory is designed for re-entry shortly after launch into a designated, uninhabited area.
“It’s in an area of the ocean where it won’t affect anyone,” said James Free, associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems.
Keith Bradsher Monica Bronczuk Jose Antonio Bautista Garcia and Mark A. Walsh Contributed to reporting, and me you Contribute to research.
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