Story at a glance

  • The module, dubbed “Tianhe” or “Harmony of the Heavens,” was launched from the Wenchang Space Launch Center and was successfully put into low Earth orbit.
  • But now the roughly 21-ton core stage is also in orbit and is likely to make an uncontrolled reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere in the coming days as it continues to drop in altitude.
  • The core stage may burn up in Earth’s atmosphere when it falls out of orbit, but large chunks of debris could survive reentry.

Part of a Chinese rocket used to launch the first module of a space station last week is expected to make an uncontrolled reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, and it’s unclear when or where the debris will land, according to SpaceNews

The Long March 5B rocket on Thursday launched the first module of a new space station China is building and hoping to have completed by the end of 2022. 


America is changing faster than ever! Add Changing America to your Facebook or Twitter feed to stay on top of the news.


The module, dubbed “Tianhe” or “Harmony of the Heavens,” was launched from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Center on the island of Hainan and was successfully put into low Earth orbit. 

The rocket is designed to launch such modules using a core stage and four side boosters. 

But now the roughly 21-ton core stage is also in orbit and is likely to make an uncontrolled reentry in the coming days as it continues to drop in altitude, according to SpaceNews. The core as of Tuesday was orbiting Earth about every 90 minutes at more than 17,000 miles per hour, according to The Guardian.  

The core stage may burn up in Earth’s atmosphere when it falls out of orbit, but large chunks of debris could survive reentry. And while debris will likely fall into the oceans that cover most of the planet, it could still threaten inhabited areas. 

“Last time they launched a Long March 5B rocket they ended up with big long rods of metal flying through the sky and damaging several buildings in the Ivory Coast,” Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Astrophysics Center at Harvard University, told The Guardian

“Most of it burned up, but there were these enormous pieces of metal that hit the ground. We are very lucky no one was hurt,” he said. 

The outlet reports the core stage is passing over Earth as far north as New York, Madrid and Beijing and as far south as southern Chile and New Zealand. 


READ MORE STORIES FROM CHANGING AMERICA

FALSE ALARM: NO SPACE JUNK THREAT TO SPACEX LAUNCH

NASA’S HELICOPTER SENDS FIRST AERIAL PHOTOS OF THE SURFACE OF MARS

ELON MUSK’S SPACEX LAUNCHES NASA CREW-2 INTO ORBIT

FOR ITS NEXT TRICK, NASA’S HELICOPTER FLEW SIDEWAYS ON MARS

NASA’S MARS LANDER IS IN EMERGENCY HIBERNATION — AND IT COULD DIE 


 

Published on May 04, 2021