July 15, 2024

This Week in Amateur Radio

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Tiangong Space Station

Via Southgate: Chinese booster rocket tumbles back to Earth: ‘Non-zero’ chance of hitting populated area

Space boffins are watching the skies for a 23 metric ton Chinese rocket booster that is expected to crash back to Earth.

The debris measures 53.6 meters in length and is a remnant of a mission earlier this week to deliver the Wentian laboratory module to China’s Tiangong space station. Wentian itself is an exciting addition to the Chinese orbital complex and is the first module to extend the existing Tianhe core module, which was launched in 2021.

However, being a hefty beast, Wentian required a hefty rocket. In this case, the heavy-lift Long March 5B, used previously to launch Tianhe. Other variants of the Long March 5 were used to launch the Chang’e 5 lunar mission and the Tianwen-1 mission to Mars.

The problem is that the massive first stage of the Long March 5B also performs the duties of the upper stages of other rockets and so has not been dumped downrange. Instead it entered orbit and, inevitably, will come back down to Earth. The problem is working out when and where.

While other rockets (including some of China’s own) are capable of restarting their engines on orbit and disposing of themselves in a controlled manner, this does not apply this time around. Instead, the descent will be uncontrolled as the orbit decays and, according to federally funded researchers at The Aerospace Corporation “there is a non-zero probability of the surviving debris landing in a populated area.”

How much debris? The Aerospace engineering and space experts reckon that something this big won’t simply burn up in the atmosphere. Instead, the rule of thumb of 20 to 40 percent of the mass reaching the ground is quoted.

Read the full The Register article here

Read more – Southgate Amateur Radio News RSS Feed http://www.southgatearc.org/news/2022/july/chinese-booster-rocket-tumbles-back-to-earth.htm