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China is keenly monitoring rocket debris from its most powerful launch vehicle

Reuters, July 27, Beijing – The Beijing government stated on Wednesday that remnants of a sizable, recently launched Chinese rocket are scheduled to re-enter the atmosphere this coming weekend in an uncontrolled re-entry that will be keenly watched but offers minimal risk to anybody on the ground.

Sunday’s launch of the Long March 5B rocket, China’s most powerful rocket since its initial launch in 2020, was to transport a laboratory module to the new Chinese space station being built in orbit.

The rocket’s entire main-core stage, which is 100 feet (30 metres) long and weighs 22 tonnes (about 48,500 lb), has already reached low orbit and is anticipated to fall back toward Earth once atmospheric friction drags it downward, according to American experts. This is similar to what happened during the rocket’s first two flights.

According to independent U.S.-based analysts, the rocket body will ultimately disintegrate as it descends through the atmosphere, but it is massive enough that many pieces would likely survive a violent re-entry to rain debris over a region that is around 2,000 km (1,240 miles) long by 70 km (44 miles).

It is hard to predict where the debris field would likely be in advance, but specialists will be able to restrict the area of potential damage closer to re-entry in the coming days.

The Aerospace Corp., a government-funded nonprofit research centre close to Los Angeles, predicts that re-entry will take place at about 0024 GMT Sunday, plus or minus 16 hours, based on the most recent monitoring data.

According to aerospace researcher Ted Muelhaupt, the risk to people and property on the ground is generally modest because water, desert, or rainforest cover 75% of the Earth’s surface, which might be in the route of the debris.

However, there is a chance that the rocket’s bits may land over a populated region, as they did in May 2020 when portions of a different Chinese Long March 5B landed in the Ivory Coast and damaged several structures there, though no injuries were recorded, according to Muelhaupt.

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He asserted that in contrast, the United States and the majority of other space-faring countries typically incur additional costs when designing their rockets to prevent large, uncontrolled re-entries. This practice has become increasingly common since 1979 when large pieces of the NASA space station Skylab fell from orbit and crashed into Australia.

According to him, the probabilities of someone being hurt or killed this weekend as a result of falling rocket fragments vary from one in 1,000 to one in 230, which is far higher than the generally acknowledged casualty risk threshold of one in 10,000.

However, the danger to any one person is far lower, at six possibilities in 10 trillion. He asserted that the likelihood of getting struck by lightning is around 80,000 times greater.

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The likelihood of debris causing harm to aircraft or persons and property on the ground is extremely unlikely, according to Zhao Lijian, a spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry. The majority of the rocket’s parts, he claimed, would be destroyed during re-entry.

After the Beijing government remained silent on the predicted debris trajectory or the reentry window of its final Long March rocket launch in May 2021, NASA and other organisations last year accused China of being secretive.

That flight’s debris eventually made a safe landing in the Indian Ocean.

An unusual public statement from the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) detailing the approximate location of its most recent rocket was released a few hours after Zhao’s speech on Wednesday. According to the agency, the rocket was orbiting the earth at 4:00 p.m. (0800 GMT) in an elliptical orbit that was 176.6 km high at its closest point and 263.2 km high at its furthest point.

The Data about the anticipated re-entry was not disclosed by CMSA yet 

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