This weekend the impact on Earth of the Chinese Long March 5B rocket is expected. Due to its size, it may not fully disintegrate upon entry into the atmosphere and it is not known exactly where the impact will occur. Scientists cannot calculate its trajectory due to the high speed with which it orbits in its fall towards Earth. They will only be able to calculate it after entering the atmosphere.
Some websites like Orbiting Now or Sky Robot allow you to follow the evolution of the object in real time.
China, owner of the device, sends a message of calm: the risk to Earth is “extremely low” because most of the rocket’s fuselage will disintegrate in its friction with the atmosphere.
“Most of the components [del cohete] they will be burned and destroyed upon entering the atmosphere, “said Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“The probability of causing damage to aerial activities or (to people, buildings and activities) on the ground is extremely low,” he said at a regular press conference.
The European space surveillance consortium EU SST also considers it unlikely that the remains of the device will impact an inhabited place. Remember that forecasts can only be fine-tuned a few hours before entering the atmosphere.
The Pentagon does not plan to intercept the rocket, although they acknowledge that they are closely monitoring it. “According to the latest estimates I’ve seen, [la entrada en la atmósfera] It is scheduled for May 8 or 9, “said Lloyd Austin, US Defense Secretary.” We hope it falls somewhere where it won’t hurt anyone, in the ocean or somewhere like that. “
The Asian country launched “Tianhe” last week, the first of the three elements of its future space station. The launch was carried out with a Long March 5B carrier rocket, China’s most powerful launch vehicle now falling into an unstoppable descending orbit.
After its separation from the Tianhe (“Celestial Harmony”) module, which it put into Earth orbit, the Long March 5B rocket also began to orbit the Earth, but on an irregular trajectory.
It is losing altitude very slowly, making predictions about its possible point of impact on Earth almost impossible at this point. The 18-ton rocket with a size of about 30 meters is one of the largest objects to return to the atmosphere in an uncontrolled way in space history.
The Long March 5 rocket has “a large size and a thin hull,” Chen Lan, an analyst at the GoTaikonauts.com website, specializing in the Chinese space program, told ..
Therefore, it should “disintegrate fairly soon during reentry into the atmosphere and pose a relatively low threat to Earth,” he confirmed.
If the pieces of the rocket remain whole after entering the atmosphere, there is a good chance that they will be lost at sea, since the planet is 70% water. But they could also crash into a populated area or a ship.
“At this time, we have no plans to destroy the rocket,” the US Defense Secretary said this week, suggesting that the rocket launch had not been planned carefully enough.
The successful launch of the Tianhe module into orbit was celebrated in China by the media and President Xi Jinping. But the Chinese press has been virtually silent in recent days about the rocket crash.
Eyes on the Moon and Mars
It is not the first time that China has lost control of a space object during its return to Earth.
In April 2018, the Tiangong-1 space laboratory disintegrated upon entering the atmosphere, two years after it had ceased to function. The Chinese authorities had denied losing control of the laboratory.
China has spent several decades investing billions of euros in its space program.
The Asian country had sent its first astronaut into space in 2003. A spacecraft landed on the far side of the Moon in early 2019, a world first.
Last year he brought back samples from the Moon and fine-tuned Beidou, his satellite navigation system (a competitor to the American GPS).
China plans to land a robot on Mars next month. He has also announced that he wants to build a lunar base with Russia.
Called in English CSS and in Chinese Tiangong (“Celestial Palace”), the future Chinese space station will evolve in the orbit low of the Earth during 10 to 15 years.