Busy days of space junk. After the remains of a Russian rocket were seen falling off the Galician coast at the end of April and it was confirmed just two weeks later that 65 pieces of another rocket (also Russian) drift through our orbit, a a new event of the same caliber has occurred again. Specifically, it is now a giant piece of a Chinese rocket, which fell uncontrollably in the Atlantic Ocean on Monday.
The central stage of the Chinese Long March 5B rocket (CZ-5B), which was successfully launched on May 5, spent several days in orbit as part of its mission. Then it re-entered the atmosphere and fell into waters off the west coast of Auritania. The descent, which was finally confirmed by the 18th Space Control Squadron, a unit of the US Air Force. In the USA, it was important not only for its enormous mass, of almost 17 tons, but also because it had a wide window of uncontrolled descent – a period in which it is not known with certainty how it will act or exactly where the remains will fall-, the largest in decades.
“At 17.8 tons, it is the most massive object performing an uncontrolled reentry from the Salyut-7, at 39 tons in 1991, without the OV-102 Columbia in 2003,” astronomer Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center tweeted. of Astrophysics.
But although the reentry of the CZ-5B rocket was uncontrolled, in reality it was not unplanned. Throughout history, space missions have involved large amounts of debris and components that reenter the atmosphere, often involving uncontrolled descents. However, McDowell claims that the crash of the CZ-5B was an unusual event. “I’ve never seen a reentry pass directly over so many important urban areas!” He tweeted.
Fortunately, the 30-meter-long parts of the central stage that were not burned during re-entry also did not end up falling on inhabited land, although this was considered a possibility (albeit remote).
Updated SpaceTrack reentry prediction for CZ-5B core stage: between 1330 UTC and 1730 UTC May 11. Orbit is 139 x 162 km. Potential reentry zones include Australia, USA, Africa, and lots of ocean. pic.twitter.com/0kkNsaHfH1
– Jonathan McDowell (@ planet4589) May 11, 2020
Although in the case of falling on a population it would almost certainly entail the loss of human lives, these types of incidents have minimal possibilities, given the amount of uninhabited surface of the Earth (including the vast oceans). “Once they reach the lower atmosphere, they travel relatively slowly.”
The CZ-5B was launched last week to transport an experimental prototype called the Next Generation Manned Spacecraft, which successfully landed on Earth after a couple of days of orbiting testing. “The landing shows that China is serious about sending astronauts beyond low Earth orbit, something only NASA has accomplished, and ultimately sending their astronauts to the Moon,” Andrew Jones, a reporter for AFP, told AFP. SpaceNews. .