China's rocket booster renews concern about falling space debris

China’s rocket booster renews concern about falling space debris

A massive Chinese missile is headed for an uncontrolled fall into the atmosphere on Friday.

A massive Chinese missile is headed for an uncontrolled fall through the atmosphere on Friday, raising fears that parts of the giant craft could collide with Earth.

It’s the fourth time in two years that a large Chinese rocket is headed for an uncontrolled collision, and this has brought many space industry experts to tears. no we And the Europe Adhering to a rule that any space debris dumped above Earth must have no more than a 1 in 10,000 chance of causing injury on Earth, a limit experts say the Chinese missile exceeds.

“It’s a low-risk thing. It’s a higher risk than necessary,” Ted Muelhaupt, a consultant with Aerospace Corp., told reporters during a virtual media presentation.

The falling booster is the large base stage for the Long March 5B rocket launched on October 31. The missile launched an experimental laboratory unit called the Mengtian, which was supposed to dock with China. space station, Tiangong. Unlike other rockets, the Long March 5B’s core stage travels all the way to orbit during launch and orbits the Earth for a few days. Eventually its orbit decays and descends to Earth.

While China does not violate any international laws or treaties, its National Space Administration is part of a member of the 13-member Interagency Coordination Committee on Space Debris, or IADC, which recently recommended that space waste not enter the atmosphere. Exceeds a 1 in 10,000 chance of injuring or killing a person.

“China has always carried out activities that peacefully use space in accordance with international laws and norms,” ​​a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said. “This type of missile takes advantage of a special design technology, allowing most components to burn up during the process of entering the atmosphere, potentially damaging it. Earth And the airline Too low. ”

The spokesman said Chinese officials are monitoring the impact of the reinforcement and “disseminate information to the international community with an open and transparent attitude.”

When small satellites and spacecraft fall out of orbit, they often burn up in the atmosphere, posing little danger to the Earth below.

But the Long March 5B core is about 108 feet (33 meters) long and weighs 48,500 pounds (22 metric tons). With an object of this size and mass, large pieces of debris would likely escape from the rocket and hit somewhere on Earth. Aerospace Corp estimates that between 10% and 40% of the missile could reach the planet’s surface.

Most space-faring nations and space companies take precautions when launching objects of this size into space, ensuring that their vehicles are disposed of over uninhabited areas – usually the ocean.

It appears that no such precautions have been taken on Long March 5B in China, which is why concern is growing around the world every time the missile is launched. Debris from a Long March 5B booster rocket hit Ivory Coast in May of 2020, and pieces of a Long March 5B rocket were found in Indonesia after launch in July, although in both cases no one was hurt.

China’s approach to launch debris has been routinely condemned by officials in the space industry and government.

“Space-faring nations should reduce the risks to people and property on Earth,” NASA Director Bill Nelson said in a statement in May 2021 after the uncontrolled re-entry at Long March 5B. “It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding space debris.”

Aerospace Corp. and others are calling on the international community to work together to develop an agreed set of rules, including what is an acceptable level of risk for the disposal of space debris.

“With our residents driving on the roads today, we should have stop signs, traffic lights, and speed limit rules,” said Lyle Woods, Aerospace Corp.’s space traffic management expert. Kind of rules and considerations [that] It must be brought into the space domain.”

The aerospace company notes that China He will be liable if the missile causes serious damage to another country, thanks to a liability agreement adopted in 1972.

Satellite trackers with Aerospace Corp and other organizations will continue to monitor the trajectory of the missile as it approaches Earth, and improve their predictions of where it might fall. At the moment, they see different paths that cover a wide cross-section of the world’s population.

As horrific as this may sound, trackers will be able to better determine the missile’s trajectory as its return date approaches. In the end, the risk of a piece of debris falling from the missile to anyone is about six in 10 trillion, Aerospace Corp. estimates.

“You have much better odds of winning the lottery tonight than you hit that lot,” said Chancellor Muelhaupt.

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