China's Long March-5b rocket falls out of orbit over Atlantic Ocean

Katie Ramirez
May 15, 2020

The prototype spacecraft even "successfully landed" back on Earth at a predetermined site after 2 days and 19 hours in orbit, as reported by AFP.

China launched the unmanned Long-March-5B rocket into orbit May 5 from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan province and is now the fourth largest piece of space debris to fall to Earth, the outlet said.

The rocket was initially projected to descend upon the US; its path previously predicted to pass directly over L.A. and New York City. Throughout history, space launches have entailed vast amounts of spacecraft and components re-entering Earth's atmosphere as debris, sometimes in controlled or partially controlled manoeuvres, but often in uncontrolled descents.

The military agency said it was notable not just for the size of the rocket but also the extent of the window of its uncontrolled descent. The Air Force's final prediction was plus or minus half an hour, during which time it went 3/4 of the way around the world.

In 2003, Space Shuttle Columbia, which was the first space-rated orbiter in NASA's Space Shuttle fleet, disintegrated during re-entry near the end of its 28th mission resulting in the deaths of all seven crew members including Indian-American astronaut Kalpana Chawla. Nevertheless, he tweeted that the rocket part's fall was unusual: "I've never seen a major reentry pass directly over so many major conurbations!"

Astronomers say the chance of it landing in a populated area was only a vague possibility but if it had the rocket core could have destroyed a building.

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Although he did not have access to a detailed model of debris, McDowell estimated that at least the dense components of the rocket engines would have survived.

The only larger pieces were Skylab in 1979, Skylab's rocket stage in 1975 and Salyut 7 in 1991.

"Once they reach the lower atmosphere they are travelling relatively slowly, so worst case is they could take out a house".

China previously launched an earlier version of the rocket, called Long March-5, in December, where it carried a Shijian-20 satellite into geostationary transfer orbit.

Assembly of the Chinese Tiangong space station, whose name means Heavenly Palace, is expected to begin this year and finish in 2022.

The Chinese rocket, which fell into the atmosphere over the Atlantic Ocean, becoming the most massive object in almost 30 years to perform an uncontrolled re-entry from orbit.

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