The Long March 5B rocket, which was carrying a Chinese space station module, has entered low Earth orbit and is now in danger of falling to Earth, scientists warned and could rain debris down on New York or another major city in the coming days.
The Tianhe module, which will serve as the living quarters for the future Chinese Space Station, was successfully launched by the rocket (CSS). Unfortunately, the 30-meter-long rocket also entered space, making it one of the most significant unregulated re-entries ever, reports the NewYorkPost.
Rockets seldom achieve the velocity needed to enter orbit, but it is traveling around the earth every 90 minutes or seven kilometers per second. It goes through New York, Madrid, and Beijing to the north, and Chile and New Zealand to the south.
However, the possible result is that it would crash into the ocean or populated areas, which make up a significant majority of the predicted range.
The extreme heat would certainly obliterate big fragments during re-entry to the Earth, said Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Astrophysics Center at Harvard University. However, smaller pieces can make it to the ground.
McDowell added: “I think by current standards it’s unacceptable to let it re-enter uncontrolled,” and “Since 1990, nothing over 10 tons has been deliberately left in orbit to re-enter uncontrolled.”
The Long March 5B point is much larger than the one on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which reportedly caused debris to fall on a farmer’s field in Washington state during re-entry.
“The Long March 5B core stage is seven times more massive than the Falcon 9 second stage that caused a lot of press attention a few weeks ago when it reentered above Seattle and dumped a couple of pressure tanks on Washington state,” McDowell continued.
According to China state CCTV, Chinese space officials launched the Long March 5B carrier rocket at the Wenchang Space Launch Center in the southern island province of Hainan. It was transporting modules for the country’s first permanent space station, which is expected to launch in 2022.
At least a dozen Chinese astronauts are trained to live on the station now. The first of 11 missions to construct and equip the station, which is estimated to weigh 66 tons, was launched last week.