China’s 46,000-pound Long March-5B rocket recently launched the country’s first module of the new space station into orbit. Once the core was separated from the rest of the rocket, it should have followed a predetermined flight path in the ocean.
But now scientists have little idea where it will land as it orbits the planet unpredictably every 90 minutes, at around 17,324 miles per hour. As it soars through the atmosphere, appearing to tumble, it slowly loses altitude.
Its fast speed makes its landing spot almost impossible to predict, but it should make landfall in the next few days.
“The US Space Command knows and tracks the location of the Chinese Long March 5B in space, but its exact point of entry into Earth’s atmosphere can only be identified within hours of its re-entry, scheduled for around May 8 Said Lt. Col. Col. Angela Webb, US Space Command Public Affairs, told CBS News.
Starting Tuesday, the 18th Space Control Squadron, which tracks more than 27,000 man-made objects in space, offers daily updates on the location of the rocket body. Several other agencies are also following his movement.
Despite much speculation, no one knows where the debris will fall. It has the potential to land in the United States, Mexico, Central America, South America, Africa, India, China or Australia.
Most likely, it will land in the ocean, which is more than 70% of the planet, or in an uninhabited region. However, as one of the largest spaceships to re-enter uncontrollably, there is always a risk of debris landing in a metropolitan area.
But, again, the odds are low.
According to William Harwood of CBS News, “Much of the rocket will burn in the atmosphere and the chances of someone or a specific community being affected by surviving debris are remote. “
But it didn’t have to happen.
“It is not at all clear why the Chinese rocket descends uncontrollably,” said Harwood. “US rockets (and most others) regularly fire their engines to target re-entries over the South Pacific to ensure that debris cannot land on populated areas. ”
China’s National Space Administration has faced re-entry issues in the past. In 2018,The old Chinese space station made an uncontrolled reentry and landed somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. In May of last year, another Long March-5B rocket fell into the atmosphere, eventually landing near the west coast of Africa.
The most significant re-entry break in a populated area was the Columbia shuttle, which entered in February 2003. When 200,000 pounds of spacecraft shattered over Texas, a significant amount of debris hit the ground. , but there were no injuries.
Likewise, when Skylab returned home in 1978, debris fell over Western Australia, but no injuries were reported.
William Harwood contributed to this report.