The Chinese rocket landed harmlessly on Earth, but the incident was narrowly avoided

Debris from Long March 5B, which had launched a module from the Chinese space station, returned to Earth without causing any casualties or material damage. But within a few hundred meters, these pieces could have fallen on houses.

The debris of a Chinese rocket fell back to Earth on Saturday, July 30, 2022. The return of the craft was of great concern, as up to 9 tons of the rocket were expected to fall uncontrollably to the ground. The return of this debris has, fortunately, no casualties or caused any damage, mentions, but an incident of this nature could not be excluded.

“Within a few hundred meters, it could have been a different story”

Debris from the launcher was found several meters from homes on the island of Borneo: in Sarawak in Malaysia, and in Kalimantan in Indonesia, noted The Guardian on August 2. As pointed it out on Twitter astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, on August 1, “ no casualties or property damage were reported, but debris is near the villages, and a few hundred meters in either direction could have been a different story “. We are therefore not far from the occurrence of such an incident.

The risk was all the more real, as China did not expect the debris to fall there, as confirmed it the astrophysicist moreover. The return of this spacecraft, a Long March 5B rocket that was used to launch a module from China’s Tiangong space station on July 24, can be described as an uncontrolled re-entry.

Launch of the Long March 5B rocket. // Source: YouTube SciNews screenshot

Normally, space agencies and private companies make sure when launching a rocket that its components will have a planned fallback trajectory to Earth. Thus, the pieces of the central stage and of the boosters which survive entry into the Earth’s atmosphere can fall back into a safe zone, without representing any danger for anyone (often, this debris has a trajectory which makes it fall back into the ocean).

This is not what happened with the Long March 5B: China did not plan for the return of its rocket, which meant that it could fall anywhere. Yes, even at home. However, you would not have the right to keep this material, which would remain the property of China.

NASA has also confirmed that the country had not provided it with any information on the trajectory of the launcher. ” All nations should follow established best practices and do their part to share this type of information in advance, to enable reliable predictions of debris impact risk, especially for heavy vehicles, such as the Long Rocket. March 5B, which carry a significant risk of loss of life and property “, regretted Bill Nelson, administrator of NASA.

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