Another Chinese launch, another uncontrolled reentry of a rocket.
On October 31, the China Manned Space Agency (CSMA) launched the third and final module of the Tiangong space station atop a Long March 5 B heavy-lift rocket. However, China did not perform a controlled deorbit of the rocket’s core stage after its payload was deployed, as it had done in previous Long March 5 B launches. That means a 23-ton (21-metric-ton) Chinese rocket body will fall to Earth above an undetermined location in the coming days.
The Long March 5 B body fell into its orbit around Earth, unlike most modern rocket bodies designed to push themselves into a remote part of the Pacific Ocean. Instead, it’s on track to re-enter the atmosphere.
Nobody knows where the rocket body will land, and no one has any control over it. It’s too early to tell where the core stage will land, but the Aerospace Corporation is tracking the rocket stage and predicting possible paths it will take back to Earth.
“For those who’ve been tracking the previous versions of this: Here we go again,” Ted Muelhaupt, a consultant with The Aerospace Corporation’s Corporate Chief Engineer’s Office, said during a briefing on November 2 that discussed the upcoming space junk crash and what could be done to prevent such incidents.
Muelhaupt stated that “88 percent of the world’s population is at risk, which means 7 billion people are at risk” from Chinese space debris falling on them, even though “nobody has to adjust their lives as a result of this,” he added.
The panel of Aerospace Corporation experts was clear that they weren’t trying to panic people about the event.
“The answer is that you’ve got far better odds of winning the lottery tonight than getting hit by this object,” Muelhaupt said.
“The risk to an individual is six per 10 trillion. That’s a really small number.”
However, space industry experts have publicly condemned China’s practice of uncontrolled reentry, claiming it puts human life and property at enormous risk.
As the rocket body nears reentry in the coming weeks, estimates will significantly get better.