23-ton part of dead space rocket about to fall from the sky: ScienceAlert

China successfully launched the third and final part of its new Tiangong space station on Monday — and the 23-ton rocket body is headed back to Earth sometime this weekend.

The Mengtian module, which carries out scientific experiments, launched on China’s Long March 5B rocket. As it ascended into space, the rocket’s main stage gave the space station module one final push into Earth orbit before separating.

Unlike most modern rocket bodies, which are designed to be pushed into a remote part of the Pacific Ocean, the Long March 5B body fell into its own orbit around Earth.

It is on track to re-enter the atmosphere – an event called “re-entry” – and fall to Earth on Friday or Saturday morning in the Eastern time zone.

No one knows where the rocket body will land and no one controls it. But it’s extremely unlikely that any space debris will hit you.

Forecast: It will rain rocket parts

Experts can only estimate how much of the Long March rocket’s body, which is roughly the size of a 10-story building, will hit Earth. Some of it will probably burn up as it travels through the atmosphere, but the rocket body is too large to break up completely.

A rule of thumb is that 20 percent to 40 percent of the mass of a large object will survive its fall through the atmosphere, experts at the Aerospace Corporation previously told Insider.

It’s still too early to say exactly where the main stage might fall – most likely in pieces. But the Aerospace Corporation tracks the rocket’s rate and predicts the possible paths it could take back to Earth.

The predicted path of the Long March 5B rocket body around Earth, represented by yellow and blue lines, during the time it could land, as of November 2, 2022. The yellow icon marks the location of the rocket body in the middle of the predicted re-entry window. (The Aerospace Corporation)

The area where debris could fall covers about 88 percent of the human population, according to these analysts’ calculations. But this population is highly condensed in a few places. Most of the area where debris could fall is open ocean or uninhabited land.

However, space industry leaders have condemned China’s practice of uncontrolled re-entry, saying it poses an unnecessary risk to human life and property.

Estimates will improve in the coming days as the rocket body nears re-entry.

Debris from Chinese missiles continues to fall back to Earth

This marks the fourth time a remnant of China’s Long March 5B missile has threatened lives and property. Each of the rocket’s three launches – in 2020, 2021 and in July 2022 – pieces of its body have fallen back to Earth.

In May 2020, debris from one of these missiles was found near two villages in Côte d’Ivoire, reportedly causing property damage. In 2021, China said debris from the missile fell into the Indian Ocean near the Maldives, according to New York Times.

A rocket takes off
China’s March 5B rocket launched on October 31, 2022. (Guo Cheng/Xinhua via Getty Images)

Earlier this year, in July, parts of the rocket’s booster also crashed back to Earth, with several pieces believed to be found on both the Malaysian and Indonesian sides of the island of Borneo, as well as in the ocean near The Philippines.

Most rocket stages are removed by re-igniting their engines shortly after delivering their payload into orbit, heading away from populated areas and into the Pacific Ocean. But in the case of the Long March 5B, China did not design the rocket booster for controlled re-entry.

“Missiles are launched all the time, and very rarely is there a concern about re-entry,” John Logsdon, founder of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, told Insider in May 2021 as the world waited for the rocket body to fall . “So yeah, I’m a little confused as to why this is happening.”

“Is this just a deliberate disregard for international guidelines? Or is it because it is a new vehicle that it is not properly designed to be able to perform a controlled re-entry? Whatever it is,” Logsdon said, adding, “It’s unfortunate that it puts a lot of people in harm’s way.”

Space junk could kill someone this decade

In a study published in the journal Nature in July, researchers calculated a roughly 10 percent chance of debris hitting one or more people within a 10-year period. It’s not just the Chinese missile bodies. Satellites and pieces of unknown debris regularly fall out of orbit.

“If you roll the dice too many times, somebody’s going to get lucky,” Jonathan McDowell, a Harvard astronomer who meticulously tracks objects in Earth’s orbit, previously told Insider.

Ted Muehlhaupt, a consultant who works on the Aerospace Corporation’s re-entry database, previously told Insider that an object weighing at least 1 ton falls from orbit and re-enters the atmosphere every week.

The Long March 5B boosters are among the largest objects to fall back to Earth, but uncontrolled re-entry is not unique to China. In 1979, NASA’s Skylab space station descended rapidly, scattering debris over Australia. Today, however, controlled re-entry is standard practice.

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

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