How dangerous are the fragments from the Chinese space rocket heading to Earth

Credit image: getty images
Credit image: getty images

Article by: Andacs Robert Eugen, on 30 July 2022, at 11:57 am Los Angeles time

The government in Beijing, which will monitor this space debris very carefully, announced that it still poses little risk to the population on the ground, informs Reuters. 

The Long March 5B rocket was launched on Sunday to carry into space a module - a scientific laboratory - of the future Chinese space station, which is still under construction in orbit. Sunday's launch marked the third flight of China's most powerful space rocket, whose maiden flight took place in 2020.

As happened during the two previous flights, the entire central stage of the Chinese rocket - which has a length of 100 meters and a weight of 22 tons - then reached a low orbit, and specialists expect that fragments of it to crash on Earth after re-entering the Earth's atmosphere, according to American experts.

Eventually, the step will disintegrate in the atmosphere, but it is large enough for numerous fragments to survive that uncontrolled descent and fall on a surface 2,000 km long and 70 km wide, the analysts from an independent office in the United States announced on Wednesday.

The probable area where this space debris will fall is impossible to identify in advance, although experts will be able to calculate with a greater degree of accuracy the potential impact area several days before this incident occurs. 

The latest available space monitoring data show that the Chinese rover will re-enter the atmosphere at 00:25 GMT on Sunday, with an error of plus or minus 16 hours, according to Aerospace Corp, a non-profit research center funded by government funds and located near Los Angeles.

The overall risk to people and property on the ground is quite low, considering that 75% of the Earth's surface in the potential trajectory of this space debris is covered by water, desert and jungle, said Ted Muelhaupt, an analyst with Aerospace Body, in a press conference. 

However, there is also the possibility that fragments detached from the missile could fall into a populated area, as happened in May 2020, when fragments from another Chinese Long March 5B range missile fell in the Ivory Coast, severely damaging several buildings in that West African country, where no injuries were reported, Ted Muelhaupt explained. 

In contrast, he added, the United States and most other space powers generally prefer to pay extra and design their rockets to avoid such uncontrolled atmospheric re-entry of large pieces of space debris - an imperative accepted at the international level after large pieces detached from NASA's Skylab space station fell from orbit in 1979 and landed in Australia. 

He explained that the overall risk of someone being injured or injured this weekend by fragments from the former Chinese missile ranges from 1/1,000 to 1/230, far exceeding the internationally accepted risk threshold of 1/10,000. American analyst.

But the risk associated with any individual on Earth is much lower, being about 6/10 trillion. By comparison, the risk of being struck by lightning is about 80,000 times higher. 

Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said the probability of space debris causing damage to aviation or people and property on the ground is very low. He stated that most of the components of the Chinese missile will be destroyed and burn up in the atmosphere. 

Last year, NASA and other organizations accused China of being too opaque when Beijing authorities kept secret the potential trajectory of debris and its re-entry window after the previous Long March rocket flight in May 2021. 

In the end, debris from the center stage of the Chinese missile caused no damage and fell into the Indian Ocean.

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