It is the stage of the vector that brought the first module of the Tiangong space station into orbit. Sardinia is also on the way back
ROME. The stage of the Chinese Long March 5B rocket which on 29 April brought the first module of the Tiangong space station into orbit is in uncontrolled fall. The news, reported by various international sites, was confirmed to ANSA by Luciano Anselmo, of the Institute of Information Science and Technologies of the National Research Council (Isti-Cnr) of Pisa. “This is the second time this has happened with this version of the rocket. The first – he observes – was in 2020, when the fragments had fallen on some villages in West Africa “, but then the news had gone almost unnoticed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
This version of the Long March rocket was first launched in May 2020, when it took the Chinese astronaut shuttle into orbit for an unmanned test flight. Even then, the main stage of the rocket, weighing 20 tons, fell uncontrollably to Earth. The launch on 29 April was flawless, but the fact is, Anselmo notes, that “after the launch, the rocket stage was abandoned in orbit and no longer shows signs of life”. That is, it behaves like a “passive vehicle” and the only influence it undergoes is “the brake of the atmosphere, which is making it fall back towards the Earth”.
The suspicion is also confirmed by the orbit it is describing, similar both to that traveled in 2020 by its predecessor and to that in 2018 by the prototype of the old Chinese space station. Currently – he observes – the fall could take place in the range between 41.5 degrees in the North and 41.5 degrees in the South, and which also includes central and southern Italy ».
However, it is too early to draw any conclusions because the orbit could undergo changes. “The return – says the expert – is likely in the middle of next week, with an uncertainty of a few days”. In the basic version of the Long March 5 the main stage does not reach orbit and plunges into the ocean immediately after carrying its load to the desired altitude, but the 5B version is used to put very bulky loads in a very low orbit as it was the first core of the Chinese space station », Anselmo observes. Basically, all the rocket’s propellant is used to bring an exceptional load to its destination, after which it is no longer possible to control its return. “A year ago the rocket stage fell on West Africa and fragments fell on some villages.” If then the emergency of the pandemic had overshadowed what had happened, «that story has opened the eyes of the space community; the question arose as to why there was no attempt to move the rocket stage to another orbit. There were those who believed – says Anselmo – that after that time China would probably attempt a controlled return ». (HANDLE)