Huge Chinese rocket could re-enter Earth uncontrollably

(AFP via Getty Images)

A huge Chinese rocket is poised to crash to Earth in uncontrolled re-entry after launch from a space station.

The 21-ton Long March 5B rocket brought a module from China’s new space station into low Earth orbit last week.

But the 30-meter-long rocket itself also reached orbit and will now become one of the largest in history to make an uncontrolled reentry, according to SpaceNews.com.

Experts say that most expendable rockets do not reach a speed that would put them into orbit and normally re-enter the atmosphere and land in a known area.

The speed of the rocket means that it is orbiting the Earth every 90 minutes and passes north of New York, Madrid and Beijing, and as far south as Chile y Wellington, New Zealand.

Most likely, any debris that does not burn upon re-entry will land in the ocean or in an uninhabited area, but “the risk remains of damage to people or property,” according to SpaceNews.

Last May, the first launch of Long March 5B also saw the first stage reach orbit and had an uncontrolled re-entry six days later.

The US military said it re-entered the Atlantic Ocean, but if it had happened 15 to 30 minutes earlier, the unburned debris would have reached US soil.

Spaceflight observer Jonathan McDowell said the rocket’s size means it would be an unprecedented reentry.

“The center stage of the Long March 5B is seven times more massive than the second stage of the Falcon 9 which caused a lot of press attention a few weeks ago when it re-entered above Seattle and dumped a couple of pressure tanks in the state of Washington“he said. SpaceNews.

“I think by current standards it is unacceptable to let it re-enter uncontrollably.

“Since 1990, no more than 10 tons has been deliberately left in orbit to re-enter uncontrollably.”

Items that can survive reentry include components made from heat-resistant materials, such as stainless steel or titanium tanks.

China aims to complete its Tiangong Space Station by 2022 following the launch of the remaining modules.

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