The Chinese rocket, which was launched recently has crashed down to Earth and missed the Coronavirus affected New York City by minutes, thus saving a population of just under nine million. The debris of the rocket, Long March 5B (CZ–5B), measuring at 17.8 tonnes, was spotted by the US Air Force's 18th Space Control Squadron.
The prototype craft which was launched into space on May 5, came around the 13 minutes of hitting the city which is currently facing the worse nightmare due to the COVID-19 outbreak. It should be noted that the spacecraft, which has been in development for 10 years, measured over 50 meters long and weighed 849 tons when it took off.
The debris just missed New York
Launched on May 5 from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in the Hainan province, located in the southern part of China, the rocket initially showed a mysterious malfunction during its first flight. After the launch of any rocket, in the first stage the thrust push the craft into the orbital velocity and then in the second stage the rocket's payload is pushed into orbit. But in case of the Chinese rocket, it faced difficulty in breaking out of the earth's atmosphere.
As per The Independent, Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said:
Even in space, there's a thin bit of atmosphere left. Objects in low orbit travel at 18000 mph, so even a tiny bit of air makes a huge headwind. This causes 'orbital decay' - the satellite's orbit gets lower and lower over time, into the denser atmosphere where the headwind is even bigger.
He also mentioned that eventually, the spacecraft gets to the point where the heating from friction melts the metal, causing the object to break up and slow down to crash on earth. For smaller satellites, they melt entirely and nothing reaches the ground.
In his tweet, the astronomer mentioned that this was the "most massive object to make an uncontrolled re-entry since the 39-tonne Salyut-7 in 1991".
While it was predicted that the potential re-entry areas were near Australia, the U.S. and Africa, a twitter user asked McDowell, "by about how many minutes did it miss plopping onto NYC?" and the answer was only "13 minutes."
The possible debris of the rocket has been found near Cote d'Ivoire in West Africa, where reports revealed that 12-meter long object had crashed into the village of Mahounou. According to other reports, the debris also dropped in the Côte d'Ivoire's N'guinou region where a 50-kg piece of the spacecraft fell on the roof of a house but no casualty was reported.
China being irresponsible?
As per McDowell, most of the people in the space industry think that it is "irresponsible" behavior of China to let the rocket come down due to the natural orbital decay.
Earlier, the Long March 3B rocket which was launched in March also had a malfunction in its third stage, reported Xinhua News Agency. After the incident, the rocket debris fell over China and the Guam residents captured the video featuring the wreckage falling from the sky. Later in a statement, Guam government said that it had "identified that the object was likely connected to a scheduled satellite test launch from China."