China’s 21-ton Long March 5b rocket orbits the planet on a path that could cause the massive vehicle to crash back to Earth in the next few days, experts warn.
The core phase started on Thursday to deliver the first module of the country’s new space station. However, instead of returning to a pre-determined post in the ocean, an uncontrolled reentry is expected – and possibly in an inhabited area.
Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer who tracks objects orbiting the earth, told SpaceNews that the path of Long March 5b “could be a little further north than New York, Madrid and Beijing and as far south as southern Chile and Wellington, New Zealand” could be anywhere land in this area.
If the rocket stage falls to Earth, most of it could burn up in the atmosphere, but large chunks could survive, which could rain on populated areas – as the range is nearly 80 percent of the world.
There are far more bodies of water along the reentry path than land, however, increasing the likelihood of debris from the long March 5th splashing off somewhere.
Satellite trackers have also recognized the 100-foot-long, 16-foot-wide Long March 5B core stage, now known as “2021-035B,” which travels at speeds in excess of four miles per second.
Scroll down for video
China’s 21-ton Long Stage 5b nuclear missile orbits the planet on a path that could cause the massive vehicle to crash back to Earth in the next few days, experts warn. The rocket is shown when it was launched last week
China launched Long March 5B Thursday at 11:23 a.m. local time to deliver the first stage of its upcoming space station.
The modular model with the name “Tianhe” or “Harmony of the Heavens” will be used as living space for three crew members once the massive structure has been completed.
China plans to complete its Chinese space station known as Tiangong (Heavenly Palace) by the end of 2022, state media reported after several more modules were launched.
When the Tiangong space station is complete, it will orbit the earth at an altitude of 211 to 280 miles.
The core stage kicked off Thursday to deliver the first module of the country’s new space station, Tianhe. Systems tracking space debris have captured the location of the core stage (red).
3D rendering of the Chinese Space Station or Tiangong Space Station as it will look when fully constructed. Tianhe will provide the main living quarters for three crew members. Shenzhou is an existing spaceship that would dock with crew at the station. Tianzhou is an existing cargo spaceship
It is expected to have a mass between 180,000 and 220,000 pounds – roughly one-fifth the mass of the ISS, which is 925,335 pounds.
China aims to become a major space power by 2030 to keep up with rivals like the US, Russia and the European Space Agency and create the most advanced space station orbiting the earth.
Chinese space station modules
– – Tianhe: Core module. Started on April 29, 2021
– – Wentian: Experiment module I. Start planned for 2022
– – Mengtian: Experiment module II. Start planned for 2022
– – Xuntian: Space Telescope Module. Planned launch in 2024 for joint orbit with the Chinese space station
The ISS, currently in orbit, has taken 10 years and more than 30 missions to assemble since the first module was launched in 1998.
The ISS is supported by five participating space agencies – NASA (US), Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe) and CSA (Canada) – but China was initially excluded from participation by the US.
However, the missile’s return could put an end to China’s celebration if the vehicle lands in a populated area.
Space Debris Trackers have watched it move slowly and unpredictably to Earth for the past few days, and the vehicle re-entry would be one of the largest uncontrolled descents ever recorded.
The long March 5B is approximately 100 feet long and 16 feet wide, and although more than 10 tons of space debris has been left for uncontrolled re-entry into orbit, McDowell said, “By current standards, it is unacceptable to re-enter uncontrollably . “
China is aware of the possible uncontrolled descent, as Holger Krag, head of the space security programs office of the European Space Agency, told SpaceNews: “It is always difficult to determine the amount of surviving mass and the number of fragments without designing know the object, but a reasonable rule of thumb is around 20-40% of the original dry matter. “
China launched Long March 5B Thursday at 11:23 a.m. local time to deliver the first stage of its upcoming space station. The modular model with the name “Tianhe” or “Harmony of the Heavens” will be used as living space for three crew members once the massive structure has been completed
China previously launched Long March 5b (pictured) in May 2020 to test the vehicle to send people to the moon. However, this mission also ended in an uncontrolled re-entry.
China previously launched Long March 5b in May 2020 to test the vehicle to send people to the moon. However, this mission also ended in an uncontrolled re-entry.
The core stage of the Long March 5B rocket was launched on May 5th and fell to Earth a few days later off the coast of West Africa.
His descent has been confirmed by the 18th Space Control Squadron, a US Air Force unit that tracks space debris in orbit.
The core stage of the Long March 5B rocket was launched on May 5th and fell to Earth a few days later off the coast of West Africa. His descent has been confirmed by the 18th Space Control Squadron, a US Air Force unit that tracks space debris in orbit
The force said it was remarkable not only for the size of the missile, but also for the widening of the window of its uncontrolled descent.
This uncontrolled descent left the pursuers guessing exactly where it would eventually land – with speculation it could be in the ocean or on land in Africa, the United States, or Australia.
Before splashing into the waters off the west coast of Mauritania, the missile core flew over Los Angeles and New York City.
CHINA INCREASES PLANS TO BECOME SPACE SUPERPOWER WITH MARS AND MOON MISSIONS
Chinese space agency officials are working to become a space superpower alongside the US and Russia.
They have already sent the first lander to explore the other side of the moon – and shared photos of the part of our closest neighbor that we rarely see as part of the Chang’e-4 mission.
In November 2020, they sent the Chang’e-5 spacecraft to the moon to collect and return the first samples of lunar soil in 45 years.
This was done in collaboration with the European Space Agency, which provided tracking information for the Chinese spacecraft.
Chang’e-6 will be the first mission to explore the moon’s south pole and is expected to launch in 2023 or 2024.
According to the Chinese Space Agency, Chang’e-7 will study land surface, composition and space environment in one overall mission, while Chang’e-8 will focus on technical surface analysis.
China is also reportedly working on building a lunar base using 3D printing technology and sending a future crewed mission to the surface.
Mission number eight will likely lay the groundwork for this as it seeks to validate the technology envisaged for the project.
The CNSA is also building an orbiting space station where Chinese astronauts will conduct scientific experiments, much like the crew of the ISS.
The agency also launched a mission to Mars in the summer of 2020, during which they will land a rover on the surface of the red planet in February 2021.
China is also said to be working on a project to build a solar power generator in space that will send energy back to Earth and become the largest man-made object in orbit.
They also have a number of ambitious space science projects, including satellites to find signs of gravitational waves and earth observation spacecraft to monitor climate change.