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Rocket debris from China’s Earth-crash mission

Rocket debris from China's Earth-crash mission

Suspension

China’s latest launch of a massive rocket is, once again, sounding the alarm that debris will crash into the Earth’s surface in an uncertain location and very quickly.

On Sunday afternoon local time, a Long March 5B rocket blasted off from the Wenchang launch site in the southern island province of Hainan, carrying a new solar-powered laboratory, the Wentian Experimental Unit, to be added to China. Tiangong space station.

But the rocket’s heavy size – 53.6 meters (176 ft) tall and weighs 837,500 kilograms (more than 1.8 million pounds) – and the precarious design of its launch has led experts to fear that some debris from its primary stage might fail to burn as it re-enters the atmosphere. for the earth.

China says an out-of-control space missile is unlikely to cause any harm

As with two Previous launches, the rocket has thrown its empty first stage of 23 tons into orbit, which means that it will continue to orbit the Earth over the coming days as it gradually approaches landing. This flight path is difficult to predict due to fluctuations in the atmosphere caused by changes in solar activity.

Although experts consider the chances of debris hitting a populated area extremely low, many also believe that China is taking an unnecessary risk. After the core stage of the latest launch fell into the Indian Ocean, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said China had “failed to meet responsible standards regarding space debris,” including reducing risks during re-entry and being transparent about operations.

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China rejects accusations of irresponsibility. In response to concerns about the launch last year, China’s foreign ministry said the potential for damage was “extremely low”.

Before the launch, Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Center for Astrophysics who closely tracks space launches, wrote on Twitter that he was hoping China would adopt a new design to allow the core stage to be de-orbited.

Late Sunday, McDowell added that US Space Command’s orbital data on two launch objects confirmed that the core stage “is still in orbit and has not been actively de-orbited.”

Many scientists agree with China that the chances of the debris causing serious damage are slim. that Article – Commodity He published in Nature Astronomy this month the chance that, under current launch practices, someone could die or be injured from parts of a rocket resulting in uncontrolled re-entry at 1 in 10 over the next decade.

But many think launch designs like the Long March 5B are an unnecessary risk. “Launch providers have access to today’s technologies and mission designs that can eliminate the need for most uncontrolled re-entries,” the authors wrote. They proposed global safety standards that mandate controlled re-entry.

China sends three astronauts to a new space station

Although it lags behind the United States in many respects, China’s spaceflight program has scored several symbolic victories over the past decade under President Xi Jinping’s plan to build the nation into a space power, including putting the Tiangong space station into orbit. last year.

The successful docking of the Wentian Experiment module on Monday means its orbital position is just one more addition far from complete, and the final module launch is expected later this year. There are three Chinese astronauts at the station.

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The rapid increase in space activity has raised fears of the emergence of a space race – and the risk of a devastating and geopolitically destabilizing accident due to poor communication between nations. Cooperation between China and the United States in space has been minimal since the 2011 Wolf Amendment that prevented NASA from using government funding to work with the Chinese government.

Prospects for international cooperation have been further undermined by China’s growing partnership with Russia, which Beijing says remains strong despite President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The two last year announce It plans to build a joint research site on the moon.