UPDATED: October 31, 2022

Another Uncontrolled Chinese Rocket Body is Falling Toward Earth. Any Questions?

Our space debris expert is back with answers about the giant rocket stage left behind after the Oct. 31 Long March 5B Launch.

Long March 5B rocket lifts off with the Wentian module bound for China’s Tiangong space station 24 July 2022. Photo credit: CASC.
The Long March-5B Y4 launch vehicle launched the Mengtian Laboratory Module from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site, Hainan Province, China, on 30 October 2022. Video via SciNews on YouTube.

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

Some of the largest objects to previously reenter: the Mir Space Station (left); the Skylab Orbital Workshop (center); SA 513/Skylab 1 (SL-1) Saturn V Rocket (right); all images courtesy NASA.

Q: What is a “deorbit maneuver”?

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

Q: How do we know when and where debris will land?

Space Surveillance Network Map
Figure courtesy Space Operations Command / 18 Space Defense Squadron

Q: How do I read the debris predictions?

Q: Why are updates limited to two to four per day with such a fast-moving object?

@brentpatrick via Twitter

Q: Why do Aerospace’s orbital predictions differ slightly from the Space Force or other agencies?

Q: Are reentries visible from the ground?

What does a debris sighting look like? ATV-1 Reentry from February 2015, above. Image courtesy European Space Agency.

Q: Do weather patterns affect the path of reentry? Is this why it’s difficult to calculate exactly where it will land? What about solar flares?

Artist illustration of events on the sun changing the conditions in Near-Earth space. Credit: NASA

Q: Can people report sighting a reentry?

Q: How much debris has come down from the previous Long March 5B reentries? Was there a debris field?

Q: If space debris were to land in your yard, do you get to keep it?

Emily Calandrelli via Twitter

Q: This launch was part of the ongoing assembly of a space station needing more launches to complete. As the pace of launch accelerates globally, will these sorts of debris reentry events become more common?

Artist’s rendering of the Tiangong Space Station between October 2021 and March 2022, along with June 2022 with Tianhe core module in the middle, two Tianzhou cargo spacecrafts left and right, and Shenzhou-13/14 crewed spacecraft at nadir; image courtesy Shujianyang.

Q: Can we shoot down the rocket body?

Q: What are some of the potential geopolitical ramifications of an uncontrolled reentry?



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