WASHINGTON — The huge, 30 meter-tall core of a Chinese rocket is tumbling wildly through low-Earth orbit and could crash anywhere on Earth in the coming days.
The same type of Chinese rocket crashed into a village in West Africa a year ago.
Here are the details.
On Wednesday 28 April, China launched a massive Long March 5B rocket that carried the first module of its planned space station into orbit.
The Guardian reports that the core stage of this rocket was supposed to fall back to Earth in a controlled descent, but something went wrong and the 30 meter-tall rocket stage started skipping on Earth's atmosphere — and no one knows where it will crash once the drag of Earth's atmosphere tugs it down to the planet's surface.
Much of the core will likely burn up in the atmosphere, but there is a chance that some chunks of debris will survive the reentry and rain down on the land or ocean.
This, sadly, wouldn't be the first time.
In May 2020, a Long March 5B rocket slammed through the atmosphere, partially burning up during its descent.
The core fell largely into the Atlantic Ocean, but some debris landed in West Africa.
According to the South China Morning Post, some chunks of debris crashed into houses in villages in Côte d'Ivoire, though thankfully no casualties were reported.
On Tuesday 4 May the latest out-of-control Chinese rocket was orbiting Earth around once every 90 minutes, at a speed of about 27,600 kilometers per hour, and an altitude of more than 300 kilometers.
The US military has named it 2021-035B and its path can be seen on websites that track objects in Earth orbit.