A risk “low” or “small”, but not nil: A Chinese rocket should make its uncontrolled return to Earth’s atmosphere this weekend, China and many experts, however, underestimate the hypothesis of damage on Earth do.
The Asian country placed the first module of its space station in Orbit on 29 April, thanks to a long-march 5B carrier rocket – the most powerful and imposing Chinese launcher.
This is the first stage of this rocket, currently in orbit, to be returned to Earth. It is gradually losing height, and the impact of its fall is difficult to say at the moment.
According to the latest estimates from the US Department of Defense, re-entry into the atmosphere should be around 11:00 pm GMT on Saturday (11:00 am Sunday French time).
But this forecast has a significant margin of error of nine hours on either side of this schedule. As the rocket approaches, the window should slowly narrow.
After a long embarrassing silence from Chinese space and diplomatic officials, Beijing reacted on Friday.
“Upon re-entry into the atmosphere, most components (of the rocket) will burn and perish,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said.
“The chances of harm to people (buildings and activities) on airborne activities or on the ground are extremely low,” he told a regular press conference.
– Prudent Media –
Chinese media provided minimal coverage of the event on Saturday, contenting themselves with repeating the words of a diplomacy spokesman.
If parts of the rocket remain intact after re-entering the atmosphere, there is a good chance that they will be damaged at sea because the planet is 70% water. But they could also crash into an inhabited area or ship.
US Department of Defense spokesman Mike Howard said, “We hope they land in a place where they do no harm to anyone.”
US Defense Minister Lloyd Austin assured this week that his country had no intention of destroying the rocket. However, he indicated that it was not initiated carefully by China.
According to news agency AFP, according to many experts, there is a risk of debris coming from the heavy launcher, but even then it is not likely.
“Looking at the size of the object, there are necessarily larger fragments that will remain,” estimates astronomer Florent Delefi at the Paris-PSL Observatory.
But the potential for impact on a settled area is “small, less than one in a million, doubtless”, assures Nicholas Bobrinsky, head of the engineering and innovation department at the European Space Agency (ESA).
– “Metallic Shark” –
Astronomer Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in the United States and a great expert on space debris, “need not worry too much”.
“But the fact that a ton of metal hit the earth at a rate of hundreds of tons / hour is not good practice, and China should review the design of the Long March 5B mission to avoid it.”
In 2020, another Longue-Marche rocket debris crashed into the villages of Côte d’Ivoire, causing no damage.
In April 2018, China’s Tiangong-1 space laboratory disbanded when it stopped functioning two years after entering the atmosphere.
China has been investing billions of euros in its space program for several decades.
The Asian country sent its first astronaut into space in 2003. In early 2019, he landed on a machine farthest to the moon – a world ago.
Last year, they brought back samples of the moon and finalized their satellite navigation system (American GPS’s competitor) Beadou.
China plans to launch robots on Mars in the coming weeks. She also announced that she wanted to build a lunar base with Russia.