Image: Wikimedia Commons/Reproduction
The Long March 5B rocket was launched into space last Sunday (24) with the aim of putting the second module of China’s Tiangong space station into orbit. Now, its wreckage must return to Earth, although the point of arrival is unclear.
Commonly, rockets detach from spacecraft a few minutes after take-off, falling into the sea or returning in a controlled manner to the base to be reused. This is not the case with the Chinese vehicle, which reaches orbit with its payload and only returns to the planet days later.
The object about to fall is the central stage of the rocket, which weighs about 25 tons. Researchers at the Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Orbital Re-entry Debris Studies (CORDS) estimate that the piece of space junk will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere on July 31 at 4:30 am ET.
Part of the object will burn in this process, losing between 60 and 80% of its mass. Scientists still can’t say where it landed, but they estimate it will be somewhere between 41 degrees north latitude and 41 degrees south latitude. Part of the USA, African continent, Australia, Brazil, India and Southeast Asia are possible targets.
It’s not the first time a piece of a Chinese rocket has hit Earth. The first mission of Long March 5B, in May 2020, resulted in wreckage in Côte d’Ivoire. The following year, more space junk fell into the Indian Ocean after the Tiangong main module was sent by the same vehicle. In both situations, no one was injured.
Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, told a news conference that the country was closely monitoring the object’s re-entry. Fingers crossed that the Chinese rocket stage drops far away from populated areas.