Debris From Chinese Rocket Expected To Fall Back To Earth
Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images

Debris From Chinese Rocket Expected To Fall Back To Earth

Manon Lamy July 29, 2022

Concerns are growing as debris from a Chinese rocket is expected to fall back to earth, but no one is sure when or where.

On Sunday, July 24, the Chinese launched their Long March 5B rocket with the objective of carrying their Wentian laboratory module to their Tiagong space station. The rocket took off from Hainan Island at 2.22 pm local time. It docked shortly after that on the Chinese space station.

However, unlike the Space X Falcon 9 rockets, the Long March 5B does not have a way to come back to Earth. Now that the Chinese laboratory has docked the job of the rocket boosters is done. And the boosters will now make their way back to Earth. The Chinese have revealed that they have no idea where the boosters will land.

This brings multiple concerns to mind. This is not the first time the Chinese let their rocket boosters in an uncontrolled descent.

Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images

Chinese rocket debris issues

Whilst it can sound scary that there are boosters from a 20-tonne rocket hurtling towards Earth, it is not. The debris from the boosters will pose a minimal risk to humans. Indeed, upon re-entry into Earth, much of the boosters will disintegrate and break up into smaller pieces. It, therefore, poses an almost non-existent risk to us on Earth.

However, this is not the first time that the Chinese are letting their rockets fall back into Earth in an uncontrolled manner. It is the third time. The third time in five years. And according to the international space community, it is once too many times.

The Chinese have been experimenting with building their own space station since 2018 when the first incident happened. In April 2018 the Chinese sent up a prototype of a space laboratory which ended up crashing back into the Pacific Ocean.

Moreover, in May 2020 the Long March 5B (CZ-5B-Y1) came down in an uncontrolled manner off the coast of West Africa. It was even said that it left some debris in its trail over the nation of the Ivory Coast. And once again in May 2021 the Long March 5B reentered the Indian Ocean.

Thankfully no one was injured during these incidents but it does not guarantee that it will every time. The Chinese are letting 20-tonne rocket boosters fall back into Earth with no idea where it will crash. Whilst Earth has many oceans, and many unpopulated areas the debris could still cause damage to infrastructure.

It is not only about the debris

As said previously the debris that will fall back to earth will be small and is therefore not cause for concern. However, there is much more behind all the worries over space debris. What scientists and space programs around the world are criticising is that China is not taking accountability for its space debris.

The re-entry of the Long March 5B rocket boosters emphasises that China needs to find ways of disposing of its space debris in a safer way. In May 2021 when the Long March 5B reentered Earth after delivering Tiagong’s main body Tianhe, Bill Nelson, NASA Administrator delivered some wise words.

He said: ‘Spacefaring nations must minimize the risks to people and property on Earth of re-entries of space objects and maximize transparency regarding those operations.

‘It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding its space debris.

‘It is critical that China and all spacefaring nations and commercial entities act responsibly and transparently in space to ensure the safety, stability, security, and long-term sustainability of outer space activities.”‘

Today the uncontrollable fall of this rocket is not the biggest cause of worry. There are ways of tracking the rocket and estimating where it might fall. However, what is worrying is that the Chinese are not acknowledging where their debris will fall nor do they seem to be trying to stop it from happening again.

Whilst it is important to acknowledge that not everyone has Elon Musk’s technology, every nation with a space program has certain aims to aspire to and that is to keep outer space affairs safe for the future. Everyone taking part in space activities needs to act responsibly to ensure the sustainability of space travel.

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Manon is a freelance journalist for Freshered. She joined Freshered in February 2022 where she is still working today. As a freelance journalist she enjoys covering everything from international politics to Formula 1 and travelling. Manon is currently in her final year of Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham after returning from a year abroad in Vienna, Austria. She hopes to continue her studies in Journalism.