Recently, a fragment from China’s Long March 5B rocket, weighing about 25 tons, plummeted toward Earth at a speed of about 15,000 mph. Although part of the fragment burned up on re-entry, the rest fell to Earth. This incident has led to anxiety and reprimands from the world. The uncontrolled return of rocket’s core stage has also raised questions about the responsibility for “space junk.”
The Long March 5B rocket was used by China to launch the Wentian module into space, on July 24 for the Tiangong space station’s construction. The Chinese Communist Party later announced that debris from a rocket that lifted part of China’s new space station into orbit had fallen into the sea in the Philippines.
Most of the final stage of the Long March 5B rocket caught fire after entering the atmosphere, the China Manned Space Agency reported. However, the agency said that an initial part would fall unguided.
According to Aljazeera, China has faced criticism for allowing rocket parts to fall uncontrolled to Earth twice before.
Last year, NASA accused Beijing of “failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris” after parts of a Chinese missile landed in the Indian Ocean.
Tiangong-1 crashed into the Pacific Ocean in 2016 after Beijing confirmed it fell out of control. In May 2020, an 18-ton Chinese missile also fell uncontrolled on Ivory Coast.
So why does China’s missile debris often fall out of control?
Rüdeger Albat, ESA senior engineer in charge of the heavy missile “Ariane 5,” said in an interview with Deutsche Welle in 2021 that the European rocket, when first designed at an early stage, will not be allowed to enter orbit. That is, when the early-stage rocket is very heavy, it will not fly in the earth’s orbit, but fly in a parabolic trajectory after separation, making it easier to guess the rocket’s direction when it returns to earth. But the design of the Long March 5B rocket is not like that, it entered earth’s orbit from the very beginning, which made it more difficult to predict the trajectory of its debris.
According to Deutsche Welle, many aerospace experts pointed to the fact that the Long March 5B rocket losing control and re-entering the atmosphere is a “problematic design” flaw. Astrophysicist Andrew Jones in 2021, said: The first stage debris of the Long March 5B rocket weighing more than 20 tons will orbit the earth about every 90 minutes, but it is impossible to predict when or where it will re-enter the atmosphere. “The most likely scenario is high-temperature molten debris generated during re-entry into the atmosphere or uninhabited areas, in addition to the risks to people or property.”
Although rocket debris poses little risk to humans, space observers are not satisfied with uncontrolled falls. Experts say its effects are similar to that of a small plane crash, and perhaps much less deadly than the daily rocket attacks and crashes elsewhere. These risks still can be minimized.
Dr. Shane Walsh, a researcher at the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research, said: “They claim to have learned from the last two launches and added some method of control, but the EU tracking network showed this unit is tumbling, which means it’s not controlled.”
After the second launch of the Long March 5B rocket in 2021, it flew uncontrollably for more than a week, leading to worldwide concerns. In the end, the missile debris landed in the Indian Ocean, near the island nation, Maldives.
At that time, NASA Director General Bill Nelson, said, “Clearly China has failed to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris.”
Nelson added, “Spacefaring nations must minimize the risks to people and property on Earth of re-entries of space objects and maximize transparency regarding those operations.”
Whether the missile debris will injure humans or not, it is inconceivable for China’s space program to repeat the situation. When it comes to China’s rocket launch plans, it’s likely that more rockets will re-enter the atmosphere out of control in the coming years. At a time when there is so much unrest and anxiety in the world, the last thing we need is to worry about what will drop on us from the sky.