Heads Up: China's Massive Long March 5B Rocket To Make An Uncontrolled Reentry Back To Earth

china long march 5b
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s… a falling rocket? Debris from China’s Long March 5B rocket is currently plummeting to Earth. When and where the remains of the Long March 5B rocket will land is unfortunately unknown.

The launch of China’s Long March 5B rocket was initially a success last week. The rocket carried the 22.5-metric-ton Tianhe (also known as “Harmony of the Heavens”) module to space. This module is part of the new Chinese Space Station (CSS).

The Tianhe module is in its correct orbit and all is well with the module. However, the “core stage” of the rocket is out of control. The boosters of the rocket were technically supposed to return to Earth and land in the ocean. However, the core stage accidentally made it to orbit and the China National Space Administration (CNSA) lost control. The core stage measures approximately 98 feet long and 16 feet wide and weighs about 30-metric-tons.

The core stage should land on Earth any day now but no one knows when it will land, where it will land, or how much will be left of the core. It is anticipated it will land a little before May 10th, 2021. There are some concerns that it may land in an inhabited area, although the chances of it doing so are quite low. The core stage is orbiting the Earth every ninety minutes or so. Its orbit causes it to pass a bit north of New York City, Madrid, and Beijing, and as far south as Chile and New Zealand. It could therefore reenter anywhere within this area and should not reenter anywhere further north or south of these points. 

A similar situation also happened last May. The Long March 5B rocket carried a deep space crewed spacecraft and Flexible Inflatable Cargo Re-entry Vehicle into space. The CNSA lost control and the core stage of the rocket remained in orbit for a week before crashing back down to Earth. Most of the debris from the rocket landed off of the coast of Mauritania, but remains of it were also found in two villages in Cote d’Ivoire. No one was injured but those in Cote d’Ivoire reported that there had been damage to homes and business. Many have criticized the CNSA over the last few decades for their lack of concern over the safety of others.