A Chinese rocket that lost control is expected to return to crash-land this weekend, and there are concerns about the damage it will cause.
China has been expanding its space program with lunar missions and an increasing number of rockets. However, not all of these ventures have been a success. In fact, a rogue 21-ton Long March 5B is expected to crash back to Earth this weekend.
The rocket was responsible for sending Tianhe, a key part of the development of a Chinese Space Station, into orbit on Thursday, April 29. The rocket has since lost control, and now a 100-foot-long, 16-foot-wide rocket body is expected to return to Earth. Many are worried about the impact of the giant rocket.
US Department of Defense spokesperson Mike Howard explained the current situation:
U.S. Space Command is aware of and tracking the location of the Chinese Long March 5B in space, but its exact entry point into the Earth’s atmosphere cannot be pinpointed until within hours of its reentry, which is expected around May 8.
There are fears that the rocket will fall on the US, damaging properties and hurting people – particularly as previous rockets of this type have caused carnage in other countries.
Speaking to The Guardian, Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics detailed the dangers involved in this crash-landing rocket:
It’s potentially not good.
Last time they launched a Long March 5B rocket they ended up with big long rods of metal flying through the sky and damaging several buildings in the Ivory Coast.
Most of it burned up, but there were these enormous pieces of metal that hit the ground. We are very lucky no one was hurt.
It is hoped that most of the rocket will burn up as it re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere. Despite this, McDowell has criticised this uncontrolled landing that could endanger lives. He told SpaceNews, ‘I think by current standards it’s unacceptable to let it [the core stage] re-enter uncontrolled.’
Many will hope that the rocket lands in an unpopulated area, but questions about the Chinese rockets will undoubtedly linger.
There will likely be calls for the rockets to face greater regulation if they run the risk of damaging other countries. With that said, it seems that China is committed to its space program and it may be difficult to slow down this progress despite the dangers it presents.