The core of China’s 21-ton missile is out of control and could fall to Earth at any moment

The core of China's 21-ton missile is out of control and could fall to Earth at any moment

A giant rocket body orbits our planet under control, which could fall to Earth in the next few days.

This 21 ton material is the main stage of China’s Trunksin 5B missile. On April 29, China unveiled the first set of a new space station. Instead of falling into a predetermined position in the ocean typical for scraped missile units, the main phase of Trung Sin 5B orbits the planet again and goes unchecked.

Andrew Jones, China’s space program overseer, told SpaceNews that the rocket body could fall back to Earth in the next few days.

“I do not think it’s acceptable to return it unrestricted by current standards,” he said. Said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer who observes objects orbiting the Earth. “Since 1990, nothing heavier than 10 tons has been deliberately left in orbit without restraint.”

China will need 10 launches to complete its own space station.

Mr Jones says the missile is about 30 meters long and about 5 meters wide. When it falls out of orbit, it may ignite in the Earth’s atmosphere, but there may still be large debris. Much of our planet is an ocean, which is why falling missile fragments are more likely to land. But they can still threaten populated areas.

“It is always difficult to determine the amount of debris and residue left without knowing the design of the material, but a reasonable ‘general rule’ is 20-40% of the original dry mass”, “he said. Says Holger Nilsson, head of the European Space Agency’s space defense program.

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According to Mr Jones, the missile’s orbit around the Earth is carrying it. “Slightly north of New York, Madrid and Beijing and south of Chile and Wellington, like New Zealand. It usually falls to Earth anywhere within this range.

The core of China's 21 ton missile is out of control and could fall to Earth at any time - Photo 2.

The Long March-5BY2 missile, carrying the main component of China’s Tianhe space station, will take off on April 29, 2021 from the Wensang Space Launch Center in Hainan Province, China.

China previously tested the 5B Changzheng missile in May 2020 by launching a prototype spacecraft into orbit. Six days after launch, the rocket’s center also returned to Earth without control. It returns to Earth’s atmosphere in the Atlantic, according to the U.S. Space Force’s 18th Space Control Force. But local reports indicate that pieces of the missile crashed off the coast of Ivory Coast.

Jim Friedenstein, NASA’s executive at the time, called it “very dangerous.” The missile’s trajectory could not withstand the Earth’s gravitational pull through Los Angeles and New York City.

According to Andrew Jones, the Truong Sin 5B space station is specially designed to launch modules. China plans to build a new space station with 11 launches by the end of 2022. It is unclear how Chinese officials plan to handle the missile bodies in the next 10 missiles.

“The center of Trungsin 5B is seven times larger than the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket”, McDowell said.

In the past, a pressure vessel from SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket landed on a farm in Washington and left an empty land at a depth of 10 cm. No one was injured in the incident, local officials said.

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The initial prototype of the China Building Space Station returned to Earth uncontrollably in 2018. It fell in the South Pacific, where people did not live.

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Cary Douglas

About the Author: Cary Douglas

Cary Douglas is a reporter who covers everything from oil trading to China's biggest conglomerates and technology companies. Originally from Chicago, he is a graduate of New York University's business and economic reporting program.

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