A 21-ton Chinese rocket core careening back to Earth on an uncontrolled path could cause debris to fall on the United States or other populated countries during the next several days, according to published reports.
Space News reported April 30 that the Chinese Long March 5B rocket successfully lifted off early in the morning on April 29 from Wenchang to deliver the first 22-metric-ton module, Tianhe, to that country’s own space station.
The module separated from the rocket and entered low earth orbit successfully, but the core stage and its four side boosters are likely to fall back to Earth with an uncontrolled reentry that could see debris falling along a path that could include New York or Madrid, the report said.
While the possible debris area does include those more populated areas, there is also a wide swath of ocean water in its path, making it more likely to splashdown.
If the rocket core does come down uncontrolled due to the drag placed on it by the atmosphere, it would be one of the largest such incidents involving a spacecraft.
According to several reports, experts and amateurs alike are tracking the descending rocket core and believe it is tumbling back to Earth uncontrolled.
With its present trajectory, it is believed the core debris will either splashdown in the ocean or impact the planet within the next several days to a week.
The Long March family of Chinese rockets are made by the China Academy of Launch Vehicles and have a history dating back to early ballistic missiles, according to a listing on Britanica.com by George Washington University Professor Emeritus John M. Logsdon.
The Long March 1 initially launched China’s first satellite into orbit in 1970.
Since then, the rockets have deployed humans into orbit as well as ever increasing payload weights.
The Long March 5, according to the China Academy of Launch Vehicles, is the second generation of launchers designed to lift people and supplies to the nation’s own space station.
The core, launched for the first time in 2014, is a single-stage vehicle with four strap-on boosters.
According to the reports, the exact path or location where the rocket may come down are hard to predict.
There was a similar event last year when another Chinese Long March 5B rocket core made an uncontrolled reentry, splashing down just off the West African coast.
According to a May 2020 Space News report, the debris came down several days after a May 5 launch.
The descent and subsequent splashdown were confirmed at the time by the U.S. Air Force, according to the report.
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