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Whew! 23-ton Chinese rocket debris falls to Earth over Pacific Ocean

There were concerns about where a 23-ton chunk of space junk from China's Long March 5B rocket launch would land again, but it has already safely dropped into the south-central Pacific Ocean.

The enormous chunk of debris in issue came from the Long March 5B rocket's core stage, which was fired on Monday to launch the third and final module to China's Tiangong Space Station (Oct. 31).

China, like in earlier ascents of the same rocket, permitted the core stage to enter orbit without providing a means for it to safely return to Earth. Given that the Long March 5B was not built with any capabilities that allow for a safe deorbit after launch, this is starting to happen more frequently.

That indicates that, once more, people all across the world kept an eye on events and made predictions about where and when the rocket space debris will fall based on the best information at hand. Fortunately, according to U.S. Space Command, the enormous rocket body dropped safely into the Pacific Ocean.

The People's Republic of China Long March 5B rocket, also known as the CZ5B, returned to Earth at 4:01 a.m. MDT/10:01 a.m. UTC on November 4th, according to a tweet from the command this morning(opens in new tab) (Nov. 4). For more information, Space Command stated, "we once again recommend you to the #PRC" (People's Republic of China).

According to the Spanish air traffic control blog Controladores Aéreos, as the falling rocket debris was being tracked during uncontrolled reentry, it raised enough concern that a stretch of airspace was closed in Spain as a precaution.

This is the fourth time in recent years that China National Space Administration launches have resulted in such a space debris disaster. A 25-ton Long March 5B core stage crashed into the stratosphere over the Indian Ocean in July 2022.

In April 2021, debris from the core stage of an earlier Tiangong space station flight washed into the same body of sea. And in May 2020, fragments of a Long March 5B were believed to have fallen to Earth over West Africa, depositing space debris all across Ivory Coast.

Some rockets, like SpaceX's workhorse Falcon 9, are built to come down in one piece and be reused, while others, like other rockets, have safeguards in place to make sure their core stages are directed into the ocean following launch. There are no such safeguards in place for China's most potent rocket.

Marlon Sorge, Executive Director for The Aerospace Corporation's Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies, said during a media conference on Wednesday that regrettably there are no international agreements in place to stop these occurrences from happening again in the future (Nov. 2).

Sorge stated that "and the reality is that there aren't any genuine rules, treaties, or international agreements that control what you're authorized to do with regard to reentry." Therefore, there isn't really a direct legal way to regulate what is happening on a global scale.

At least six more launches of the Long March 5B rocket are currently scheduled by China's space programme, with the earliest flight possibly occurring as early as mid-2023.

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Edited by: (LinkedIn)

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