Long March 5B: US Military Says China Rocket Will Hit Turkmenistan; 9 KEY POINTS

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There is anticipation, and in some cases trepidation, among people all over the world about the impending re-entry of rocket debris from Long March 5 launch a few days ago. Debris of the Chinese rocket will fall back into Earth on the weekend in the aftermath of an uncontrolled freefall.

While China has assured it does not expect calamitous consequences from the rocket freefall, the US authorities have also expressed hope that it is unlikely cause danger. "The probability of causing harm ... on the ground is extremely low," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said, AFP reported.

Long March-5B rocket
China's unmanned spacecraft Long March-5B rocket Twitter @SpaceflightNow

What is Long March 5B?

China launched Long March 5B rocket into Earth's orbit on Apr 29. The rocket launched the Asian giant's first module of its space station, Tianhe. The main segment of the rocket, which is expected to fall back into Earth, weighs around 18 tonne.

Why is the Uncontrolled Freefall Happening?

The uncontrolled fall of parts of Long March 5b rocket is an unintended consequence of the missile launch. Multi-stage rockets usually fall back before getting into Earth's orbit, and pose no risk of any debris getting into Earth's atmosphere. However, segments of Long March got into Earth's orbit, making it inevitable that they end up entering the atmosphere.

long march-5 y2

When and Where Will Rocket Parts Re-Enter Earth?

The rocket part is in free fall now and is predicted to hit Earth over the weekend. According to experts it is difficult to predict where and when it will re-enter Earth's atmosphere.

How Dangerous Can this be?

While it is expected that most of the rocket parts will burn up upon re-entry, posing highly negligible chance of causing any injury or damage to humans, the chances of it falling in an inhabited area are not foreclosed completely. "The chances of debris landing on an inhabited zone are tiny, probably one in a million," said Florent Delefie, an astronomer at the Paris-PSL Observatory.

Long March-5B rocket
China's unmanned spacecraft Long March-5B rocket Twitter @SpaceflightNow

What Does US Military Say?

According to reports by CNN, the US military ahs predicted the Chinese rocket parts will fall in in Turkmenistan in Central Asia. The debris fall is predicted to happen 7 pm Eastern Time on Saturday, or 4.30 am IST on Sunday.

Has there been a Similar Previous Experience?

This has happened before. In 2020, parts of another Long March rocket re-entered Earth and fell over the Ivory Coast. The debris caused structural damage but no injuries or death to anyone.

How Bad Are Prospects This Time?

While most experts discount significant chances of any untoward incident, some astrophysicists say there are chances of danger. According to Jonathan McDowell, a Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, if the debris hits anything the chances of damage are very high.

Can Anyone Predict Re-entry Time and Place Closer to Event?

The US scientists say it is possible to pinpoint the place and time of the debris fall closer to the event, though an exact prediction is not possible much earlier. Though Chinese authorities say most of the rocket components would be destroyed on re-entry, there is consensus that debris will hit Earth.

Will US Military Shoot it Down?

There have been speculation that the US might shoot down the debris as it makes way into Earth, but it's not going to happen. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has said military has no plans to shoot it down.

This article was first published on May 8, 2021