On April 29, the Chinese Long March 5B rocket brought the first module of the future Tiangong space station into orbit, strongly desired by the Beijing government. Goal achieved. But unfortunately there is a but. The carrier rocket, once it finished its task, began its fallout towards the Earth. An uncontrolled return, this is the problem. At the moment the “Long March” has dropped nearly eighty kilometers in altitude, and is losing altitude as it approaches the Earth’s atmosphere. A real “bullet”, which travels at the extraordinary speed of 27,600 km per hour: once it has crossed the atmosphere, the debris of the central part of the rocket will end up crashing to the ground. Where is it? At the moment it is not known. Half-planet scientists, who are following everything, explain that it is too early to know: the impact, for now, is scheduled for May 10, with a gap of 24 hours. Only when the day of reentry into the atmosphere is clear, explains Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at Harvard University, will it be possible to make an accurate assessment, within a time window of six hours.
On April 29, China launched the first module of its space station, now a shower of debris is feared
Based on the current orbit, which could change in the next few hours, the remains of the Long March could fall in an area between Beijing, New York and Madrid to the north. Or, to the south, between the southern part of Chile and Wellington, New Zealand. Virtually everywhere. Italy included.
It is not the first time that a Chinese rocket ends up returning to Earth in an uncontrolled way: as explained by Luciano Anselmo, of the Institute of Information Science and Technologies of the National Research Council (Isti-Cnr) of Pisa, it had happened in March of the year, on the occasion of the first launch of a Long March B vector. After six days in orbit, the debris that had not charred upon re-entering the atmosphere had ended up in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean but also on some some villages of West Africa. Back then, the news had gone almost unnoticed for the Covid-19 pandemic.
Today we go again and for now, in essence, we just have to cross our fingers: looking at the glass half full, the chances of a crash on the ground are still lower than those of ending up in the sea. For a very simple reason: the fact that on our planet the waters cover 71% of the earth’s surface.
And China? No official comments. Only the promise that the space station “bis”, whose name Tiangong means “Heavenly Palace”, will be operational by 2022.