Scientists unsure where uncontrolled rocket debris will hit Earth CBS News

Ruben Hill
May 8, 2021

The Pentagon has said it is tracking a large Chinese rocket that is out of control and set to reenter Earth's atmosphere this weekend, raising concerns about where its debris may make impact. Because it was specifically created to withstand high temperatures, parts of it will probably survive re-entry.

The agency is now tracking the remains of the rocket, which had been launched by China in late April.

University of Auckland's professor Richard Easther told Breakfast today that China was being guarded about the capabilities of the detached rocket that could make an uncontrolled entry into the atmosphere and crash anywhere from Wellington to Beijing.

The 18th Space Control Squadron, which tracks more than 27,000 man-made objects in space, is offering daily updates on the rocket body's location.

Despite much speculation, no one knows where the wreckage fell.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki at a Wednesday briefing said the US Space Command was "aware of and tracking the location" of the Chinese rocket. Most of the Earth's surface is ocean, and much of its land is uninhabited. However, as one of the largest spacecraft to re-enter unattended, there is still a risk that the debris will end up in an urban area.

But, again, the odds are low.

According to William Harwood of CBS News, "Much of the missile will burn in the atmosphere and it is unlikely that any particular person or community will be infected with the remaining debris".

The Global Times also cited aerospace expert Song Zhongping as saying China's own space monitoring network will keep a close watch on areas under the rocket's flight course and take measures to avoid damage to passing ships.The environmentally friendly fuel used by the Long March 5B would not pollute the ocean, he added.

"Why the Chinese rocket is coming down uncontrolled is not at all clear", Harwood said.

Space lawyer and Australian National University lecturer Dr Cassandra Steer told ANU the future of space would likely depend on diplomacy than on treaties or law. "US missiles (and most other missiles) routinely fire their engines to target re-entry operations over the South Pacific to prevent debris from entering populated areas".

Psaki said that it is "in the shared interests of all nations to act responsibly in space to ensure the safety, stability, security, and long-term sustainability of outer space activity".

Astronomer Imad Mujahid expected that the Chinese "CZ-5B R/B" rocket, which has lost control since last week, will cross the Jordanian skies from Egypt at 12:05am Friday.

China's space agency has yet to say whether the core stage of the huge Long March 5B rocket is being controlled or will make an out-of-control descent.

Places of potential return are found along the blue and yellow ground path.

Similarly, when Skylab re-entered in 1978, debris fell over Western Australia, but no injuries were reported.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

Discuss This Article

FOLLOW OUR NEWSPAPER