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World U.S. Space Command tracks Chinese rocket for uncontrolled re-entry from orbit

05:16  06 may  2021
05:16  06 may  2021 Source:   reuters.com

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By Steve Gorman

a stack of pancakes on a track with smoke coming out of it: FILE PHOTO: Long March-5B Y2 rocket, carrying the core module of China's space station Tianhe, takes off from Wenchang © Reuters/CHINA DAILY FILE PHOTO: Long March-5B Y2 rocket, carrying the core module of China's space station Tianhe, takes off from Wenchang

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Remnants of a large Chinese rocket launched last week are expected to plunge back through the atmosphere this weekend in an uncontrolled re-entry being tracked by U.S. Space Command, the U.S. military said on Wednesday.

The Long March 5B rocket blasted off from China's Hainan island on April 29 carrying the Tianhe module, which contains what will become living quarters for three crew on a permanent Chinese space station. The Tianhe launch was the first of 11 missions needed to complete the station.

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The rocket's exact point of descent into Earth's atmosphere as it falls back from space "cannot be pinpointed until within hours of its reentry," which is projected to occur around May 8, Space Command said in a statement posted online.

Harvard-based astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell said potentially dangerous debris will likely escape incineration after streaking through the atmosphere at hypersonic speed but in all likelihood would fall into the sea, given that 70% of the world is covered by ocean.

There is a chance that pieces of the rocket could come down over land, perhaps in a populated area, as in May 2020, when pieces from another Chinese Long March 5B rocket rained down on the Ivory Coast, damaging several buildings, though no injuries were reported, McDowell told Reuters.

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FILE PHOTO: People watch from a beach as the Long March-5B Y2 rocket, carrying the core module of China's space station Tianhe, takes off from Wenchang © Reuters/CHINA DAILY FILE PHOTO: People watch from a beach as the Long March-5B Y2 rocket, carrying the core module of China's space station Tianhe, takes off from Wenchang

The 18th Space Control Squadron at Vandenberg Air Force Base, about 160 miles (257 km) northwest of Los Angeles, is tracking the spent rocket, plotting updates on its location as it descends, the U.S. Space Command said.

The squadron tracks more than 27,000 man-made objects in space, most of them in low orbit, it said.

The Global Times, a Chinese tabloid published by the official People's Daily, characterized reports that the rocket is "out of control" and could cause damage as "Western hype." The situation is "not worth panicking about," it said, citing industry insiders.

"Most of the debris will burn up during re-entry ... leaving only a very small portion that may fall to the ground, which will potentially land on areas away from human activities or in the ocean," Wang Yanan, chief editor of Aerospace Knowledge magazine, was quoted as saying by the newspaper.

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  China State Media Says Out-of-Control Rocket Debris 'Likely' to Fall in Water A Chinese newspaper aligned with the country's government published a story that downplays the Pentagon's monitoring of potentially dangerous space debris from a Chinese rocket as "nothing but Western hype."The Global Times, an English- and Chinese-language publication that functions as a de facto mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, said that reports of the debris being "out of control" or that it "may cause damage if it hits inhabited areas" are untrue. Instead, the paper contended, Chinese space analysts predict that any remains of the rocket are "very likely to fall in international waters and people needn't worry.

McDowell, a member of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said the rocket's main stage core, believed to weigh about 21 tons, would likely break into a shower of debris equivalent to that of a small plane crash and come down in a narrow trail stretching about 100 miles.

Based on its current orbit, the debris trail is likely to fall somewhere as far north as New York, Madrid or Beijing and as far south as southern Chile and Wellington, New Zealand, or anywhere in between, McDowell said.

McDowell said most countries have sought to design spacecraft in such a way as to avoid large, uncontrolled re-entries, since large chunks of the NASA space station Skylab fell from orbit in July 1979 and landed in Australia.

"It makes the Chinese rocket designers look lazy that they didn't address this," he said, calling the situation "negligent."

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Karishma Singh and Gerry Doyle)

Pieces of a runaway Chinese rocket have rained down on the Indian Ocean, quelling fears it would hit people or property .
The rocket had been hurtling towards Earth for a week with no one knowing when or where it would land. The landing quelled fears that debris from the rocket might have fallen on people or property. See more stories on Insider's business page. A Chinese rocket falling toward Earth at around 18,000 miles an hour reentered the atmosphere late Saturday, landing in the Indian Ocean near the Maldives, China's space agency reported, according to the South China Morning Post. It was the 22.5-ton core stage of China's Long March 5B rocket, which launched the first module of the country's new space station on April 28.

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This is interesting!