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Heads up! Chinese rocket caught in orbit to fall to Earth

May 3, 2021, 1:26 PM | Updated: May 5, 2021, 10:15 am

The sky could literally be falling on us within the next week in the form of a Chinese rocket booster. 

Due to a failure on a Chinese rocket sent to orbit to begin construction of their own space station, a nearly 100-foot-tall, 21-ton rocket booster launched last week will make an uncontrolled re-entry this week and could land on a populated area.

The Long March 5B rocket that launched Wednesday successfully delivered the first  “Tianhe” module of their planned independent space station into orbit, but due to an error, one of their monstrous rocket engines also ended up in orbit. 

“Most expendable rocket first stages do not reach orbital velocity and reenter the atmosphere and land in a pre-defined reentry zone,” Andrew Jones from Space News wrote late last week.

“However this core stage is now also in orbit and is likely to make an uncontrolled reentry over the next days or week as growing interaction with the atmosphere drags it to Earth,” he continued, noting that this will likely be one of the largest uncontrolled re-entry of a spacecraft in history. 

 

Jones noted that while we don’t know exactly when or where the debris will land, the odds are that it will end up somewhere in the ocean. But, he said there is a possibility it could end up crashing into a number of major cities on the US east coast. 

According to ground trackers at aerospace.com the predicted reentry time in Utah time is 7:01 MDT Sunday, plus or minus 41 hours. 

Holger Krag, head of the Space Safety Programme Office for the European Space Agency, said it’s difficult to assume how much debris will make it to the planet’s surface, but “a reasonable “rule-of-thumb” is about 20% to 40% of the original dry mass.”

The surviving mass will likely be parts of the rocket that were designed to be heat resistant like tanks and thrusters. Space News said whatever does survive will fall vertically through the atmosphere and hit the ground at its terminal velocity.

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, the core module of China's space station, Tianhe, on the the Long March-5B Y2 rocket is moved to the launching area of the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in southern China's Hainan Province on April 23, 2021. China plans to launch the core module for its first permanent space station this week in the latest big step forward for the country’s space exploration program. The Tianhe, or “Heavenly Harmony”  module is set to be hurtled into space aboard a Long March 5B rocket from the Wenchang Launch Center on the southern island of Hainan. The launch could come as early as Thursday night, April 29, 2021 if all goes as planned.  (Guo Wenbin/Xinhua via AP) WENCHANG, CHINA - APRIL 29: The Long March-5B Y2 rocket carrying the core module of China's space station, Tianhe, blasts off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on April 29, 2021 in Wenchang, Hainan Province of China. (Photo by Lin Yuxian/VCG via Getty Images) In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, a Long March 5B rocket carrying a module for a Chinese space station lifts off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in Wenchang in southern China's Hainan Province, Thursday, April 29, 2021. China has launched the core module on Thursday for its first permanent space station that will host astronauts long-term. (Ju Zhenhua/Xinhua via AP) In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, a Long March 5B rocket carrying a module for a Chinese space station lifts off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in Wenchang in southern China's Hainan Province, Thursday, April 29, 2021. China has launched the core module on Thursday for its first permanent space station that will host astronauts long-term. (Jin Liwang/Xinhua via AP)

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Heads up! Chinese rocket caught in orbit to fall to Earth