The Long March 5B rocket, which carried a Chinese space station module, has dropped into low Earth orbit and now risks crashing back down.
The rocket successfully launched the Tianhe module last week, which will become the living quarters of the future Chinese Space Station (CSS). Unfortunately, the 30-metre long rocket also reached orbit, and is now one of the largest ever launches to make an uncontrolled re-entry.
It is uncommon for rockets to reach the velocity necessary to reach orbit, but it is currently travelling around the world once every 90 minutes, or seven kilometres every second. It passes by just north of New York, Madrid, and Beijing, and as far south as Chile and New Zealand.
There are fears that the rocket could land on an inhabited area; the last time a Long March rocket was launched in May 2020, debris was reported falling on villages in the Ivory Coast. The speed of the rocket means scientists still do not yet know when it will fall, but it is likely to do so before 10 May 2021.
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European Space Agency announces new predictions for rocket crash
The European Space Agency has revealed a new prediction for when Long March 5B’s reentry.
It believes that the rocket will fall at 07:31:19:47 on 9 May 2021, with an uncertainty period of 17 hours and 56 minutes either side of that time.
This is later than when the US Space Force predicts it will fall: 8 May 2021, at 22:11.
Adam Smith6 May 2021 13:43
The US Space Force is providing updates
The US Space Force said yesterday that it would be providing daily updates on Long March 5B via the Space Track website.
Currently, that sets predictions for the rocket’s “decay epoch” for 8 May 2021, at 22:11.
The agency will be providing updates daily, with newer messages at the top, but information provided remains scarce.
Adam Smith6 May 2021 13:30
Impact Phase for Australia
If Long March 5B, or any other space debris, was going to impact Australia, a number of steps are taken:
All debris impact sites are treated as “serious hazardous materials”, with first response authorities to isolate the site, manage it as a HAZMAT situation, secure a safe exclusion zone around the debris, and to take sufficient decontamination and potential quarantining of members of the public, personnel, and equipment.
Government and territory hazardous materials experts will then analyse the debris and provide advice on the situation, with the Australian state then deciding whether to recover the debris.
Adam Smith6 May 2021 12:30
What is Australia’s debris plan?
The Australian Government Space Re-entry Debris Plan, also known as “AUSSPREDPLAN”, consists of four phases:
- Standby – default
- Watching – when an object is identified as a potential re-entry risk
- Warning – when an object is likely to re-enter and impact on Australia or its Territories
- Initial Impact – when an object has impacted Australia or its territories
The plan remains in standby at all times, and will move through its watching and warning phases should the risk of impact prove serious. Government agencies will assess how quickly they can provide support, and risk assessments are produced.
Up until the end of the warning phase, Australian agencies may still stand down “if the re-entry does not affect Australian territories or region of interest.”
Adam Smith6 May 2021 11:30
The Australian government is tracking the rocket
The Australian government is tracking the rocket, but admits it is too early to know when it will fall. It does not foresee a high risk to populated areas in the country.
A spokesperson for the Australian government’s Department for Home Affairs told The Independent:
Adam Smith6 May 2021 10:00
Long March 5B: 6 May 2021
Long March 5B is currently still speeding around the world; at time of writing (08:25am GMT) it is 143.31 kilometres high, maintaining its speed of slightly over seven kilometres per hour.
The rocket is expected to crash in two to four days, according to estimates made by both the US and European space agencies.
Adam Smith6 May 2021 08:26
We have a leading astrophysicist from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics joining us to take your questions about the spacecraft.
You can find out all about the AMA session with Jonathan McDowell right here:
Anthony Cuthbertson5 May 2021 23:11
Astrophysicist says there is only ‘one in several billion’ chance Chinese rocket will hit you
A Harvard astrophysicist says there is only a “one in several billion” chance that the huge Chinese rocket tumbling back to Earth will actually hit anyone.
Jonathan McDowell insisted people should not worry about the tiny probability of being hit by the remains of the 21-ton Long March 5B rocket.
Graeme Massie5 May 2021 23:10
European Space Agency updates predictions of when debris will fall
The ESA has released new predictions about then Long March 5B is expected to fall.
“As it does with other significant reentries, ESA’s Space Debris Office is currently performing daily assessments for the re-entry of the CZ-5B core stage using frequently updated orbital tracking data from the US Space Surveillance Network (including ground-based radars) and the Agency’s own modelling tools”, it says.
On 4 May, it predicted that the rocket would reenter at 17:23:20.51 on 9 May 2021, with an uncertainty of 26 hours and 26 minutes.
That has now been updated to 09:57:28:77, with an uncertainty of 20 hours and 13 minutes added or subtracted.
“The uncertainty window of 20 per cent for the remaining orbital lifetime is typical for such a re-entry”, the agency adds.
Adam Smith5 May 2021 21:00
Space debris could litter the Pacific ocean
“The nonprofit Aerospace Corp. expects the debris to hit the Pacific near the Equator after passing over eastern U.S. cities. Its orbit covers a swath of the planet from New Zealand to Newfoundland.”
Adam Smith5 May 2021 20:00