Huge Rocket Looks Set For Uncontrolled Reentry Following Chinese Space Station Launch

Hmmmmmm shares a report from SpaceNews: The Long March 5B, a variant of China’s largest rocket, successfully launched the 22.5-metric-ton Tianhe module from Wenchang Thursday local time. Tianhe separated from the core stage of the launcher after 492 seconds of flight, directly entering its planned initial orbit. Designed specifically to launch space station modules into low Earth orbit, the Long March 5B uniquely uses a core stage and four side boosters to place its payload directly into low Earth orbit. However this core stage is now also in orbit and is likely to make an uncontrolled reentry over the next days or week as growing interaction with the atmosphere drags it to Earth. If so, it will be one of the largest instances of uncontrolled reentry of a spacecraft and could potentially land on an inhabited area.

The high speed of the rocket body means it orbits the Earth roughly every 90 minutes and so a change of just a few minutes in reentry time results in reentry point thousands of kilometers away. The Long March 5B core stage’s orbital inclination of 41.5 degrees means the rocket body passes a little farther north than New York, Madrid and Beijing and as far south as southern Chile and Wellington, New Zealand, and could make its reentry at any point within this area. The most likely event will see any debris surviving the intense heat of reentry falling into the oceans or uninhabited areas, but the risk remains of damage to people or property.

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