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China’s Long March booster rocket is falling to Earth, Thailand too affected 


By Matichon, The Verge, AP/Reuters via ABC News

THAILAND’S Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (GISTA) said today (July 29) that remnants of the Long March 5B rocket will be falling to earth on Sunday July 31 with Thailand too affected because it passes the country everyday, Matichon newspaper said.

The massive booster is part of a Long March 5B rocket, which launched on July 24, sending a new module into orbit for China’s growing Tiangong space station. After the giant rocket reached space, it shed a fairly massive part of itself: its core booster. This booster sticks around in orbit, lapping the planet before eventually falling back to Earth. 

The rocket part weighs 21 tons and it is  possible that up to 9 tons’ worth of material could survive the fall.

However GISTA said the chances of this huge rocket part hitting Thailand is just 1.2%, which is very low, but the space agency will be closely monitoring its fall to Earth and the areas at risk of being hit when it crashes and will alert the public accordingly.

This is the third time China has decided not to control the disposal of the rocket body, once again putting the country under scrutiny. In both 2020 and 2021 China was responsible for similar uncontrolled falls.

Many experts believe China is taking an unnecessary risk by not tracking or controlling the fall of the massive debris.

According to Space.com, the danger to human life from a falling rocket is quite small, but the sheer size of the Long March 5B rocket makes it more of a threat.

The last time this happened, in 2021, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said China was “failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris.”

Last year, remnants of a rocket harmlessly splashed into the Indian Ocean, with the bulk of its components destroyed upon reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

However, after the rocket’s maiden flight in May 2020, pieces of space junk fell on the Ivory Coast, causing no injuries but damaging several buildings.

In the past, China has been defensive about their decision to allow the uncontrolled fall of the rocket body. According to the New York Times, Hua Chunying, a senior spokesperson with China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, accused the United States of “hype.”

“The US and a few other countries have been hyping up the landing of the Chinese rocket debris over the past few days,” Ms. Hua said.

“To date, no damage by the landing debris has been reported. I’ve seen reports that since the launch of the first man-made satellite over 60 years ago, not a single incident has occurred where a piece of debris hit someone. US experts put the chances of that at less than one in a billion,” she told the outlet last year.

The rocket body’s flight path is hard to predict because of fluctuations in the atmosphere caused by changes in solar activity.

Experts say this time around, a few tonnes of metal could fall anywhere along the booster’s orbital path, which travels as far north as 41.5 degrees north latitude and as far south as 41.5 degrees south latitude.

In other words, major cities like New York, Los Angeles, Cairo and Sydney, Australia all lie in the rocket’s eventual descent path.

According to a map shared to Twitter by The Aerospace Corporation, a non-profit largely financed by the US government, it appears many Eastern Canadian cities, like Toronto, Montreal and Halifax, fall within the expected touch-down area, although it’s too soon to tell if they could be at threat.

Ted Muelhaupt, a debris expert at Aerospace Corporation told the NYT that the US and other countries typically will control the reentry of their space debris “if the chances of an injury to someone on the ground are higher than 1 in 10,000.”

He added that he is “very confident this is above the threshold. Well above the threshold.”

To date, there have been no known cases of personal injury caused by falling human-made space junk.


Top: The Tianzhou-3 cargo craft separates from China’s orbiting space station on Sunday. Photo: Xinhua via AP and published by ABC News

Insert: A massive booster of China’s Long March 5B rocket is heading to Earth on Sunday July 31. Photo: Matichon 

Front Page: China’s Long March 5B rocket ahead of launch.  Photo: CFOTO / Future Publishing via Getty Images and published by The Verge

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