The Long March 5B rocket, which carried a Chinese space station module, has dropped into low Earth orbit and now risks crashing back down.
The rocket successfully launched the Tianhe module last week, which will become the living quarters of the future Chinese Space Station (CSS). Unfortunately, the 30-metre long rocket also reached orbit, and is now one of the largest ever launches to make an uncontrolled re-entry.
It is uncommon for rockets to reach the velocity necessary to reach orbit, but it is currently travelling around the world once every 90 minutes, or seven kilometres every second. It passes by just north of New York, Madrid, and Beijing, and as far south as Chile and New Zealand.
There are fears that the rocket could land on an inhabited area; the last time a Long March rocket was launched in May 2020, debris was reported falling on villages in the Ivory Coast. The speed of the rocket means scientists still do not yet know when it will fall, but it is likely to do so before 10 May 2021.
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China launches another rocket
Last night, UK time, China launched an older rocket up to space to put some satellites into orbit.
Luckily, the Chang Zheng 2C won’t come back down for a couple of decades, and the rocket is a lot smaller so sould be safer when it does.
Andrew Griffin7 May 2021 11:16
Arrival could coincide with Elon Musk’s Saturday Night Live appearance – both in location and time
Since it will run until the early hours of Sunday morning, the Saturday Night Live show with Elon Musk will happen during that window. And the New York studios of SNL are within the range, as noted by expert Jonathan McDowell.
But he notes that the rocket is not likely to fall on the set: the rocket appears to be over the South Pacific during the monologue, he notes.
Andrew Griffin7 May 2021 09:53
Predictions show rocket coming back from over Saturday evening
The US’s projected re-entry shows the rocket coming back down sometime between 2pm on Saturday after and 8am on Sunday morning. (That’s UTC, so the same as GMT; you can add an hour to get the time in the UK, or subtract four to get the time on the US west coast.)
Andrew Griffin7 May 2021 09:51
Are wooden satellites the answer?
As well as the aforementioned giant claw, Japan is testing wooden satellites to clean up space wreckage.
Sumitomo Forestry, a Japan-based wood processing company, said they have begun researching on an ideal wood material for space.
The satellites could burn up when they plunge back to Earth without releasing harmful substances into the atmosphere, and could be ready as soon as 2023.
Adam Smith7 May 2021 03:30
Long March 5B might be safe; what happens if something isn’t?
Scientists have attempted to map what would happen if an asteroid or other kind of object crashed to Earth. It does not end well.
There is currently no technology on Earth that could stop a massive asteroid from wiping out Europe.
Simulations carried out by space agencies concluded that such a catastrophe would be unavoidable, even given six months to prepare.
“If confronted with the scenario in real life, we would not be able to launch any spacecraft on such short notice with current capabilities,” the agencies said.
Adam Smith7 May 2021 02:30
And the giant claw?
The European Space Agency will be sending a huge claw into space in order to remove buildup of space debris that has been accumulating around the planet.
The ClearSpace-1 mission will target the Vespa (Vega Secondary Payload Adapter), which was left in orbit after the second flight of Vega in 201.
The agency is using a Swiss start-up, called ClearSpace SA, to perform the task. It is expected to launch its mission in 2025.
Adam Smith7 May 2021 01:30
How do we clean up space debris?
Rocket launches have placed about 10,680 satellites in Earth’s orbit since 1957, around 6,250 of these are still in space, but only 3,700 are still functioning.
In March 2021, a new satellite mission sought to collect the debris was started.
The End-of-Life Services by Astroscale demonstration (ELSA-d) will be operated from the In-Orbit Servicing Control Centre – National Facility at the Satellite Applications Catapult (SAC) at Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire. It will begin demonstration sin June or July 2021.
Adam Smith7 May 2021 00:30
How much space debris is there?
There are currently an estimated 200,000 objects between 0.4 and 4 inches, and tens of thousands of objects larger than 4 inches, according to the United States Space Surveillance Network.
Adam Smith6 May 2021 23:30
What happens if space debris hits something?
Space debris has been a considerable challenge for some time. On 22 September, the three astronauts serving aboard the International Space Station were ordered to shelter near an escape craft in the Russian segment of the station.
Nasa had detected a large piece of space debris heading towards them and initiated emergency thrusters to avoid what it called a “possible conjunction” with the object.
It was the third time since January that the space station had been forced into an unscheduled manoeuvre, and once again highlighted the ever-growing issue of rogue debris in Earth’s orbit.
If a crash had happened, it could spark a domino effect that could trap humans on Earth.
Adam Smith6 May 2021 22:30
How big is Long March 5B
The Long March 5B rocket is weighs around 20 tons, the same as 20 polar bears, and is roughly 100 feet long and 16 feet wide.
Exact information about the rocket is scarce however, due to the tight control of information from the Chinese government. The Independent has reached out to China’s space agency for more data.
The CZ-5B uses a single core stage and four strap-on boosters to lift over 20 metric tons into low Earth orbit.
“The design is not described in detail in public sources”, the European Space Agency says, “but the single core stage is estimated to be cylindrical with dimensions 5 meters by 33 meters and a dry mass of about 18 metric tons.”
It is estimated that between 20 and 40 per cent of the dry mass might survive reentry, equating to tons of material.
Adam Smith6 May 2021 21:30