The rocket successfully launched the Tianhe module last week, which will become the living quarters of the future Chinese Space Station (CSS). Unfortunately, the 30-metre long rocket also reached orbit, and is now one of the largest ever launches to make an uncontrolled re-entry.
It is uncommon for rockets to reach the velocity necessary to reach orbit, but it is currently travelling around the world once every 90 minutes, or seven kilometres every second. It passes by just north of New York, Madrid, and Beijing, and as far south as Chile and New Zealand.
There are fears that the rocket could land on an inhabited area; the last time a Long March rocket was launched in May 2020, debris was reported falling on villages in the Ivory Coast. The speed of the rocket means scientists still do not yet know when it will fall, but it is likely to do so before 10 May 2021.
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How do we clean up space debris?
Rocket launches have placed about 10,680 satellites in Earth’s orbit since 1957, around 6,250 of these are still in space, but only 3,700 are still functioning.
In March 2021, a new satellite mission sought to collect the debris was started.
The End-of-Life Services by Astroscale demonstration (ELSA-d) will be operated from the In-Orbit Servicing Control Centre – National Facility at the Satellite Applications Catapult (SAC) at Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire. It will begin demonstration sin June or July 2021.
Adam Smith7 May 2021 00:30
How much space debris is there?
There are currently an estimated 200,000 objects between 0.4 and 4 inches, and tens of thousands of objects larger than 4 inches, according to the United States Space Surveillance Network.
Adam Smith6 May 2021 23:30
What happens if space debris hits something?
Space debris has been a considerable challenge for some time. On 22 September, the three astronauts serving aboard the International Space Station were ordered to shelter near an escape craft in the Russian segment of the station.
Nasa had detected a large piece of space debris heading towards them and initiated emergency thrusters to avoid what it called a “possible conjunction” with the object.
It was the third time since January that the space station had been forced into an unscheduled manoeuvre, and once again highlighted the ever-growing issue of rogue debris in Earth’s orbit.
If a crash had happened, it could spark a domino effect that could trap humans on Earth.
Adam Smith6 May 2021 22:30
How big is Long March 5B
The Long March 5B rocket is weighs around 20 tons, the same as 20 polar bears, and is roughly 100 feet long and 16 feet wide.
Exact information about the rocket is scarce however, due to the tight control of information from the Chinese government. The Independent has reached out to China’s space agency for more data.
The CZ-5B uses a single core stage and four strap-on boosters to lift over 20 metric tons into low Earth orbit.
“The design is not described in detail in public sources”, the European Space Agency says, “but the single core stage is estimated to be cylindrical with dimensions 5 meters by 33 meters and a dry mass of about 18 metric tons.”
It is estimated that between 20 and 40 per cent of the dry mass might survive reentry, equating to tons of material.
Adam Smith6 May 2021 21:30
Watch: Long March 5B’s uncontrolled descent
Meteorologist Nick Stewart has captured footage of Long March 5B’s erratic fall.
“Another great pass of the out-of-control Chinese Long March 5B rocket body passing over eastern Iowa”, he wrote.
“The blinking is it tumbling after failing to reenter. It will return to Earth in the next few days, some of it may make it to the surface.”
Adam Smith6 May 2021 20:30
AMA with astrophysicist John McDowell about Long March 5B
Jonathan McDowell, astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics as part of the Chandra X-Ray Center, has been one of the key watchers of Long March 5B’s descent.
He will be conducting an Ask Me Anything alongside The Independent’s Science and Technology Editor Andrew Griffin, giving readers an opportunity to ask whatever they like about the spacecraft.
Adam Smith6 May 2021 19:30
US has no plans to shoot down rocket
The US military is not planning to destroy the rocket, and will instead hope that it lands harmlessly in the ocean, the defence secretary has said during a briefing.
Andrew Griffin6 May 2021 19:18
China: Long March 5B is ‘not worth panicking about’
The Global Times, a tabloid published by the official People’s Daily, has described reports that the rocket is “out of control” and could cause damage as “Western hype.”
The situation is “not worth panicking about”, it said, according to industry insiders.
While China has a tighter control of the media than the US and UK, experts from other countries have echoed these sentiments – predicting that the rocket will break up and likely land in the ocean.
Adam Smith6 May 2021 18:30
Long March 5B is “among the top ten largest objects to come down in one piece”
“This is probably among the top ten largest objects to come down in one piece,” said Ted Muelhaupt of the Aerospace Corporation, the not-for-profit organisation which advises US government space and defence agencies, to ABC.
Muelhaupt confirmed that “the odds of it landing in an inhabited area are not great;” historically, the odds of being hit by space debris are incredibly low.
Only one person has ever been hit by debris in the planet’s long history of space flight, Muelhaupt claimed.
Adam Smith6 May 2021 17:30
Ask an expert anything about the Long March rocket
The Independent will be holding a Q&A on the fate of the tumbling rocket. And you can submit any question you’d like to be answered.
Andrew Griffin6 May 2021 17:10
This Article firstly Publish on www.independent.co.uk