Stage of the Chinese rocket falls uncontrollably to the Earth

The first stage of the Chinese Long March 5B rocket, weighing about 23 tons, rotates in an unstable low orbit. It is supposed to fall to Earth on July 31, but no one knows the exact time and place.

Launch of Long March 5B. Source: CNSA/Ourspace

Where will the stage of the Chinese rocket fall?

On July 24, the heavy Chinese rocket Long March 5B launched the laboratory module Wentian into orbit. A few hours later, it successfully docked to the Tianhe Space Station. But not everything in this story is as great as the Celestial Space Agency tells about it.

The huge first stage of the Long March 5B, which simultaneously served as the upper stage for the Wentian, is still in orbit. And it’s unstable. A huge piece of metal weighing 23 tons is slowly falling into the atmosphere.

The Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies (CORDS) tracks the fall of the stage and predicts that it will enter the atmosphere around 1.00 a.m. GMT+3. But the margin of error is 24 hours.

Because of this, no one can even say approximately where the giant 53-meter-long “pipe” will fall. The entire surface of the Earth is at risk between 41 degrees north latitude and 41 degrees south latitude. The good news is that the entire territory of Ukraine is outside this zone.

Why are the Long March 5B having such problems?

Although the fall of the stage on the territory of Ukraine is excluded, it still poses a danger. 88 percent of the world’s population lives in the zone of probable fall. Although the most likely thing is that the remnants of the Long March 5B will fall into the ocean.

In any case, the stage is too large to completely burn up in the atmosphere. According to experts, at least 20-40 percent of its mass will reach the Earth’s surface. When they can take into account all the fluctuations, they will name the place of the fall more precisely.

At the same time, this is not the first such case from Long March 5B. The same thing happened during its launches in 2020 and 2021. And this year we are waiting for another such “roulette”, when the Chinese will launch the third module of their space station.

There are no such problems with most rockets. Usually their first stages don’t work long enough to get into orbit. They almost immediately fall in a given area. And those carriers that work long enough usually have enough fuel left to take them out of orbit.

But the Chinese engineers who designed the Long March 5B did not provide for such an opportunity. Instead, Chinese officials assure everyone that the stage will burn up in the atmosphere and that this practice is common for all countries.

According to

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