The 21-metric-ton rocket body, Long March 5B, is expected to reenter Earth’s atmosphere this weekend. How did this happen, and where will it hit?

The Chinese Long March 5B successfully launched the core module of China’s first space station. Now the empty rocket body is plummeting towards Earth. Credit: CASC

A large Chinese rocket stage is expected to reenter Earth’s atmosphere in the coming days and experts are concerned about the potential impact of the debris.

The Long March 5B successfully launched a 22.5-metric-ton core module of China’s first space station last week. During the launch, the first stage of the Long March 5B also reached orbital velocity instead of falling downrange as is common practice. …


Tackling the challenge of small satellite propulsion with a novel idea for a Hydrogen Peroxide Vapor Thruster.

Rhodes checks the electrical connections of HyPer in a vacuum chamber. (Photo: Jeff Berting/Aerospace)

Small satellites are becoming more and more capable, taking over missions that used to require larger spacecraft. However, adding propulsion systems to these smaller platforms remains a challenge, which means many small sats are limited to applications that do not require increases in altitude, or changes in inclination.

Engineers at The Aerospace Corporation, working in conjunction with the University of Southern California, are developing a monopropellant vapor propulsion system that could help solve this problem.

“This type of system could enable the satellite…


From small satellites to the International Space Station, the new frontier for studying our planet is miles above it.

It turns out one of the best ways to study Planet Earth is to leave it. As human access to space has sped up, scientists increasingly rely on everything from satellites to the International Space Station to study our planet and changes to our climate. New tools on the ISS provide data on Earth’s airglow and carbon dioxide levels while satellites track wildfires, Arctic warming and hurricanes.

In honor of Earth Day, here we are highlighting eight ways scientists and engineers are using space to study and protect Earth.

How Satellites Predict Wildfire Spread


Satellites are complex and time-intensive to build. A team of engineers wants to make the process as easy as plugging in a USB drive.

FFHannah Weiher, Slingshot payload manager, works with an engineering development unit to explore the potential of modular design.

While access to space has sped up, the process of building satellites has not. Since the days of Explorer 1, marrying a satellite’s payloads to the bus that provides power, telemetry and communications has been a complex, time-intensive process unique to each particular mission.

To keep up with the new space environment, a team of engineers at The Aerospace Corporation are working on a vision of the future where integrating the payload and bus of a…


The Orbiting Carbon Observatory has been installed on the International Space Station to study carbon dioxide in oceans and terrestrial ecosystems on Earth.

An overview of the International Space Station where the OCO-3 will be installed. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the burning of fossil fuels for energy has caused carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere to rise at an alarming rate. While other greenhouse gases have also increased due to human activity, carbon dioxide is far more abundant and remains in the atmosphere much longer. …


The 2.9-ton pallet of old batteries are traveling towards Earth at 4.8 miles per second.

An external pallet packed with old nickel-hydrogen batteries is pictured shortly after mission controllers in Houston commanded the Canadarm2 robotic arm to release it into space. [Credit: NASA]

The International Space Station just discarded 2.9 tons of old batteries — the largest piece of space debris to be dropped from the space station to date.

Engineers in Houston used the Canadarm2 robotic arm to drop the pallet of nickel-hydrogen batteries from the space station’s orbit, 260 miles above Earth. A NASA statement explained the pallet of batteries will orbit Earth for two to four years “before burning up harmlessly in the atmosphere.”


Engineers are revolutionizing active satellite re-positioning with a new method called Project Rollercoaster.

When a natural disaster strikes or a national security emergency breaks out, every minute counts. In many cases, satellite imagery is a key tool for first responders.

But it can take a satellite in low earth orbit 100 minutes to make one of the many passes needed to provide global coverage. Larger satellites can provide continuous coverage of greater areas but require higher altitudes and still only cover roughly one-third of the Earth.

In critical, fast-moving situations, space operators can find themselves challenged by the stubborn inflexibility…


Scientists explore the mysteries of the Aurora with a stunning light show.

Colorful clouds formed by the release of vapors from the two AZURE rockets allow scientists to measure auroral winds. (Photo Credit: NASA/Lee Wingfield)

It’s hard to tell, but behind the beautiful, glimmering greens and blues of the Northern Lights hides a world of violence. The colorful glow of the Auroras (also known as the aurora borealis or polar lights) is the result of particles from the sun releasing energy as they bombard Earth’s atmosphere. Most frequently seen in the skies of high-latitude regions around the Arctic and Antarctic, the auroras appear as a diffuse glow or as a luminous curtain-like shape, sometimes forming relatively static arcs or flowing, nebulous shapes known as “active aurora.” …


The NIRAC camera uses the Earth’s natural airglow to capture stunning nighttime imagery.

NIRAC photo of South America at night.

A new infrared camera is now obtaining unique high-contrast, nighttime images from its home on the International Space Station (ISS). The 45-kilogram instrument, known as the Near Infrared Airglow Camera (NIRAC), will provide detailed observations of clouds at night for weather prediction, among other applications.

“NIRAC is a pathfinder for nighttime imaging done from a low Earth orbit platform,” said Dr. Lynette Gelinas, one of the principal investigators for NIRAC at The Aerospace Corporation. …


NASA used a daring spacecraft maneuver to collect a sample from an ancient asteroid that may offer insights into the making of the solar system and life on Earth.

Artist concept of OSIRIS-REx at asteroid Bennu, a remnant from the dawn of the solar system that may hold clues to the origins of life. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Conceptual Image Lab

The clues to understanding the origin of the solar system and life on Earth are flying 63,000 mph through space, embedded in asteroids.

Asteroid sampling stands to divulge a wealth of scientific information regarding the natural world, and its increasing feasibility may portend a new era of industry and commercial possibilities. Recently, NASA collected a sample from one of the estimated 1 million asteroids in our solar system. …

The Aerospace Corporation

We operate the only federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) committed exclusively to the space enterprise.

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