Debris from yet another Chinese rocket will make a random crash on Saturday, as per the latest predictions. The falling object is a 23-metric-ton rocket booster that belongs to the Long March 5b or Changzheng 5 (CZ-5) heavy-lift rocket, developed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology. There have been three different incidents in the past three years, all of Chinese origin, and NASA has expressed its concern by requesting the Chinese space agency to design their launch vehicles to better disintegrate upon re-entry, following the international norms.
China has historically been a sort of antagonist in the tale of American space exploration. Banned from the International Space Station since 2011, the Chinese -not lacking economic and technological power – designed and are currently building their own space station named Tiangong. This antagonism resembles the one held with the Soviet Union during the Apollo era.
If it seems like this headline is not new, it is because it isn’t the first time this has happened with the Long March 5b. In 2020 and 2021 similar uncontrolled re-entries caused anxiety and disapproval amongst space agencies around the world. The CZ-5 rocket, whose rogue booster is still orbiting the Earth as of today, carried an experiment module to the Tiangong Space Station before turning back around and losing control. According to the Aerospace Corporation, who is closely tracking the potential orbital paths of the booster’s re-entry, this could happen (as per the latest update at the time of publishing) as early as tomorrow (Saturday, July 30th) at 6:05 pm UTC ± 5 hours, or 2:05 pm EST.
Because approximately 70 percent of Earth is covered in water, experts predict that the debris from the rocket likely won’t impact a populated area. The uncontrolled nature of the event means there is a non-zero chance, and it makes it very difficult to predict where exactly it will crash, but the odds remain extremely low. This is not to say that there isn’t an issue to be addressed, though. Last year, NASA Administrator Sen. Bill Nelson released a statement saying “It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris.” The statement added, “It is critical that China and all spacefaring nations and commercial entities act responsibly and transparently in space to ensure the safety, stability, security, and long-term sustainability of outer space activities.”
In the meantime, there is no major concern over this piece of space junk causing damage. However, Ted Muelhaupt who is an Aerospace Corporations consultant, expressed that it is frustrating because the technology to avoid this kind of issue exists, according to The Verge. The more frequent these events are, the higher the chances that space debris will eventually fall on land. For now, there isn’t much left to do but wait for newer updates on this space rocket and watch the sky.