An out-of-control Chinese rocket could crash back down to Earth sometime this week. China’s space agency successfully launched a Long March 5B rocket on Sunday. The rocket carried a new module to the country’s space station. Like previous Long March 5B rockets, though, this one remained in orbit after launch and will make an uncontrolled re-entry soon.
This is just the latest in a string of uncontrolled reentries that China has become known for in recent years. The Long March 5B launched from Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan on Sunday, around 2 in the afternoon Beijing time. While China launching another piece of its space station into orbit is great, an out-of-control Chinese rocket crashing back to Earth isn’t.
Space agencies like SpaceX have begun to rely on reusable rocket core stages. Not only does this allow for less money in the long run, but it is also safer because the rocket makes a controller reentry. China, on the other hand, has been exceptionally irresponsible with how it sends things into orbit. Especially with the Long March 5B.
This rocket, which has become the country’s primary rocket, hasn’t previously offered any controlled reentry. When China launches a Long March 5B, the core stage simply remains in orbit. At least until Earth’s gravity pulls it back down. And it’s this part that makes things dangerous. An out-of-control Chinese rocket crashing down to Earth poses many risks.
Astronomer Jonathan McDowell confirmed that the rocket stage hadn’t been de-orbited in a tweet on Sunday. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to say when it will fall from orbit.
Space has always been a risky business. While it has been years since we’ve experienced a tragedy, there have been some close calls. To name a few, things like leaky spacesuits and even postponements of an important supply run to the International Space Station. But, for every uncontrolled re-entry, these Chinese rockets put even more lives at risk.
That’s because an out-of-control Chinese rocket hurtling back down to Earth is unpredictable. Because it’s simply orbiting Earth without any kind of intervention from man, it can fall anywhere. Luckily, the past instances of these rockets crashing back down have been mundane, though they have landed in inhabited areas. Nobody has been hurt yet.
But the chance of rocket debris hitting your house is never zero. Sure, it’s exceptionally low, and the chances of someone dying to debris are only going up. So, hearing of yet another out-of-control Chinese rocket crashing down to Earth is disappointing, to be sure.
China says that it took measures to control the reentry this time. But only time will tell if that is true, as the country did not elaborate on how it did so. Hopefully, China will make a change soon, especially as it continues to launch rockets into orbit to complete its other space-based missions.