A Space Debris Expert Weighs in on the Massive Chinese Rocket Body Falling Uncontrollably to Earth

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
The reentry prediction for the Long March 5B rocket body from the Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies. Note: The ground traces shown in the above image extend the full uncertainty window. Credit: The Aerospace Corporation

How often does an uncontrolled reentry of this size occur? Have there been other instances that compare?

What normally happens with a rocket stage like this and what was different this time?

What is a “deorbit maneuver”? Could that have been attempted?

How much of the Long March 5B rocket stage is expected to survive reentry and reach the Earth’s surface?

How likely is it that I will get struck by space debris from this reentry? As of right now, do we know where the debris is likely to land?

What can the space industry be doing to avoid these types of uncontrolled reentries from happening in the future?

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

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The Aerospace Corporation

The Aerospace Corporation

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

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