China’s Rocket Debris Landed Near Maldives: Here’s What to Know


Debris from a large Chinese rocket landed in the Indian Ocean near the Maldives early Sunday morning, China’s space administration announced.

It said most of the debris had burned up on re-entry, but it did not specify whether what remained had landed in the ocean or on one of the Maldives’s 1,192 islands.

The rocket, a Long March 5B, launched the main module of China’s next space station, Tiangong, on April 29. Usually, the large booster stages of rockets immediately drop back to Earth after they are jettisoned, but the 23-ton core stage of the Long March 5B accompanied the space station segment all the way to orbit.

Because of friction caused by the rocket rubbing against air at the top of the atmosphere, it soon began losing altitude, making what is called “uncontrolled re-entry” back to Earth inevitable. The chances that debris would strike anything or hurt anyone were slight, but not zero, and people around the world kept a wary eye on its trajectory for days.

China’s space administration announced that the debris had entered the earth’s atmosphere over the Mediterranean before flying over the Middle East and coming down near the Maldives, south of India. People in Israel and Oman reported sightings of the rocket on social media.

Long March 5B is China’s largest rocket, and one of the largest currently in use by any nation. The country’s space program needed a large, powerful vehicle to carry Tianhe, the main module of Tiangong, the new space station, which is to be operational by 2022 after more pieces are launched and connected in orbit.

The full rocket contained multiple pieces. Several smaller side boosters dropped off shortly after the launch, crashing harmlessly in the Pacific Ocean. (Disposing of used, unwanted rocket pieces in the ocean is a common practice.) But the core booster stage — a 10-story cylinder weighing 23 tons empty — carried the Tianhe module into orbit.

In recent decades, rocket stages that reach orbit typically fire the engine again after releasing their payloads so that they drop out of orbit, aimed at an unoccupied area like the middle of an ocean.

China did not elect to do that for this launch, and so that large booster is now headed back uncontrollably to the surface.

That has happened once, after Cosmos 954, a Soviet satellite that was powered by a nuclear reactor, crashed in Canada in 1978. Canada billed the Soviet Union for part of the cost of cleaning up the radioactive debris.

In recent years, China has completed a series of impressive achievements in spaceflight. Months ago, it put a spacecraft — Tianwen-1 — in orbit around Mars, and in December it also collected rocks from the surface of the moon and brought them back to Earth.

In May or June, it hopes to further advance its Mars mission by landing a robotic rover, Zhurong, on the red planet’s surface. So far only the United States has had lasting success during attempts to land on Mars.

As it works to make steady progress on space station construction, China could also launch a crew to orbit next month in a spacecraft called Shenzhou. Once in space, they are to dock with the Tianhe module.



Sahred From Source link Science

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