NASA Head Criticizes China's "Uncontrolled" Rocket Crash Back To Earth

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by Tyler Durden
Friday, Nov 04, 2022 - 06:20 PM

Update (Friday): 

A 23-ton Chinese rocket booster fell back to Earth uncontrolled and plunged into the south-central Pacific ocean early Friday morning. 

NASA administrator Bill Nelson criticized the Chinese for their reckless, uncontrolled rocket booster reentry. 

"Once again, the People's Republic of China is taking unnecessary risks with the uncontrolled rocket stage reentry of their Long March 5B rocket stage." 

"They did not share specific trajectory information, which is needed to predict landing zones and reduce risk." 

"It is critical that all spacefaring nations are responsible and transparent in their space activities ... and follow established best practices, especially, for the uncontrolled reentry of a large rocket body debris — debris that could very well result in major damage or loss of life." 

US Space Command confirmed the Long March 5B rocket reentered the Earth's atmosphere over the south-central Pacific Ocean around 0600 ET. A second object reentered around 0606 ET, indicating the rocket might have broke in half. 

It was the fourth time China's Long March 5B rocket made an uncontrolled reentry back to Earth in recent years, putting the world on high alert as it was anyone's guess on the booster's final destination. 

"The thing I want to point out about this is that we, the world, don't deliberately launch things this big intending them to fall wherever," Ted Muelhaupt, a reentry and debris expert at The Aerospace Corporation, said in a news conference on Wednesday. "We haven't done that for 50 years," he said. 

However, Zhao Lijian, a foreign ministry spokesman, disputed the claims of China's reckless handling of the reentry:

"I would like to stress that China has always carried out activities in the peaceful use of outer space in accordance with international law and international practice — reentry of the last stage of a rocket is an international practice."

Lijian said the booster "is designed with special technology; most of the components will burn up and be destroyed during the reentry process, and the probability of causing harm to aviation activities and on the ground is extremely low." 

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"Here we go again," Ted Muelhaupt, a reentry and debris expert at The Aerospace Corporation, told reporters at a press briefing Wednesday. For the fourth time, China's Long March 5B core stage will make an uncontrolled reentry into Earth's atmosphere on Friday. 

The Aerospace Corporation's latest update on the predicted reentry time of the Long March 5B core stage is for Friday at 1356 ET (early afternoon):

"Our latest prediction for rocket body reentry is: 04 Nov 2022 17:56 UTC ± 6 hours Reentry will be along one of the ground tracks shown here. It is still too early to determine a meaningful debris footprint."

Here's debris modeling of where the booster could land

On Monday, China's most powerful rocket carried the third and final module for the Chinese Tiangong space station into low-Earth orbit. "Because this core stage lacks the capability to relight its engines for a controlled reentry into a desolate part of the world's oceans, the rocket could ultimately come back anywhere in the tropics and most of the mid-latitudes of the planet," Ars Technica said. 

Muelhaupt noted the individual risk to anyone struck by debris is extremely low:

"You're 80,000 times more likely to get hit by lightning," he said. "Nobody has to alter their lives because of this unless you're a first responder."

Over the last five decades, this booster ranks as the sixth largest uncontrolled reentry. 

On the three previous launches of the Long March 5B booster (2020, 2021, and 2022), the boosters fell back to Earth but did not cause any damage to building structures or injure anyone. 

It's anyone's guess where the booster will land tomorrow. We're sure US officials will release statements saying how reckless the Chinese are in their space ambitions.