Debris from China’s latest space launch may return to Earth in a random location in the coming days, a US astronomy expert has warned.
The launch of the Long March 5B rocket will leave at least 21 tons of debris in low orbit, said Jonathon McDowell, an astronomer at the Astrophysics Centerwhich could then fall back to Earth in an unpredictable location.
Unfortunately, the 21-tonne central stage is likely to be left in low orbit for an uncontrolled re-entry in an unpredictable location.
— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) July 24, 2022
China’s 5B rocket launched from the southern island province of Hainan on Sunday, it said International business newslifting a solar powered Wentian Laboratory into the stars to join China’s Tiangong Space Station.
The new lab will expand China’s efforts to conduct life science research in space, a CGTN report saidwith a robotic arm and three astronauts who can venture into space.
A random drop
In 2020 and 2021, debris from China’s Long March 5B rocket crashed into land, one hitting the Indian Ocean and the other damaging villages in Ivory Coast.
China was also blamed for the fireballs seen over the Spanish region of Andalusia by astrophysicist José María Madiedo, following the launch of the Long March 2F rocket last month.
“[China is] are not meeting responsible standards for their space debris,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in reaction to the recent collisions. as reported by the Washington Post.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry responded by saying the likelihood of the debris causing damage is “extremely low,” the WP report said.
However, it is difficult to predict where rocket debris re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere, McDowell said, illustrating the various re-entry locations of 102 Starlink satellites.
Of the 260 Starlink satellites that have re-entered so far, we have re-entry locations for 102. This graph illustrates that the locations are random, consistent with the fact that the last week of their orbital decay and its re-entry is not controlled. pic.twitter.com/brnU18xCfI
— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) July 25, 2022
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Alfie is a reporter at Asia Financial. He previously lived in Mumbai reporting on India’s economy and health for the data journalism initiative IndiaSpend, as well as working for London-based Tortoise Media.