A Chinese rocket that is currently in a failing orbit is likely to at least partially survive re-entry and fall to Earth.
The Long March 5B, which launched from Wenchang in Hainan province on April 29th, had carried the first module of the Tianhe space station – C̳h̳i̳n̳a̳\’s latest orbital outpost – into Earth\’s orbit.
Upon completing this task however, the 30-meter rocket has since entered an unstable orbit and it looks as though it is likely to re-enter the atmosphere and crash onto the planet\’s surface.
“It\’s potentially not good,” said Harvard astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell.
“Last time they launched a Long March 5B rocket they ended up with big long rods of metal flying through the sky and damaging several buildings in the Ivory Coast. Most of it burned up, but there were these enormous pieces of metal that hit the ground. We are very lucky no one was hurt.”
Over the last few days the orbital altitude of the rocket has dropped by 80km and ground observations have indicated that it is hurtling uncontrollably through space.
When it does come down, it\’s unclear exactly where it will land – the potential area it will hit ranges from New York in the United States to Wellington, New Zealand.
Unsurprisingly, the international community has condemned C̳h̳i̳n̳a̳\’s lack of care on the matter.
“What\’s bad is that it\’s really negligent on C̳h̳i̳n̳a̳\’s part,” said McDowell. “Things more than ten tonnes we don\’t let them fall out of the sky uncontrolled deliberately.”
As things stand, it is estimated that the rocket will reach the ground sometime around May 10th.
Let us hope that it does not hit any heavily populated areas when that happens.