China closely tracking ‘Long March’ rocket debris


BEIJING: Remnants of a large, newly launched Chinese rocket are expected to streak back through the atmosphere this coming weekend in an uncontrolled re-entry the Beijing government said would be closely tracked but poses little risk to anyone on the ground.

The Long March 5B rocket blasted off on Sunday to deliver a laboratory to the new Chinese space station under construction in orbit, marking the third flight of China’s most powerful rocket since its maiden launch in 2020.

As occurred during its first two flights, the rocket’s main-core stage – which is 30m-long and weighs 22 tonnes – has already reached low orbit and is expected to tumble back to Earth once atmospheric friction drags it down, according to American experts.

Ultimately, the rocket body will disintegrate as it plunges through the atmosphere but numerous chunks will likely survive a fiery re-entry to rain debris over an area 2,000km long by about 70km- wide, independent US-based analysts said on Wednesday.

The probable location of the debris field is impossible to pinpoint in advance, though experts will be able to narrow the potential impact zone closer to re-entry in the days ahead.

The latest available tracking data projects re-entry will occur around 12.24am GMT on Sunday, plus or minus 16 hours, according to the Aerospace Corp, a government funded non-profit research centre near Los Angeles.

The overall risk to people and property on the ground is fairly low, given that 75% of Earth’s surface in the potential debris path is water, desert or jungle, Aerospace analyst Ted Muelhaupt said.

Nevertheless, the possibility exists for pieces to come down over a populated area, as they did in May 2020 when fragments of another Long March 5B landed on the Ivory Coast, damaging several buildings, though no injuries were reported, Muelhaupt said. — Reuters

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