Experts warn: Chinese missile part ends up ‘uncontrolled’ on Earth

In a few days, debris of a 30-metre high and 20-ton heavy portion of a Chinese rocket could end up on Earth. There is little chance that this will happen in a densely populated area.


the end of last month, the unmanned module Tianhe (‘heavenly harmony’) was launched by a 30-metre high rocket called the Long Mars 5B, with the aim of putting the module into orbit. That was successful, but part of the Long March itself has also fallen into orbit around the Earth.

The object now rotates in orbit every 90 minutes at a speed of about 27,600 kilometers per hour at an altitude of more than 300 km. The U.S. Army has named the object 2021-035B. Where it is located, it can be tracked on a tracking site of the U.S. Army.

The launch of the space module last month:

Harvard expert Jonathan McDowell talks with The Guardian about a โ€œpotentially not goodโ€ situation. He also mentions China‘s negligence in dropping the danger out of the sky uncontrollably. That is not the intention with objects that are heavier than 11 tons, he thinks. Nasa was also critical last year about how China deliberately landed space debris on Earth uncontrollably.

According to Marco Langbroek, space and satellite expert at Leiden University, this makes it unclear where the object will end up. โ€œThat is not to be calculated now. It now rotates in circles towards the earth and eventually ends up in the atmosphere.โ€ According to Langbroek, it will be somewhere between May 7th and May 12th.

The object is in an orbit around the Earth of 41 degrees. โ€œThat means that everything is below 41 degrees north latitude and above 41 degrees south latitude in the risk zone,โ€ explains Langbroek. The Netherlands is at 51 degrees north latitude and therefore does not fall into the danger zone, but a metropolis like New York does. โ€œAt the same time, a very large part of the earth is in that latitude zone ocean so the chances of it being there are much greater. And even if remains end up in a city, these are relatively small pieces.โ€

Cheese factory Ivory Coast

That objects end up in the atmosphere after a launch and burn occurs relatively often, says Langbroek. โ€œSeveral times a month, but this is a category larger compared to normal missiles.โ€ A year ago, a missile part of a Long Mars 5B missile fell at a cheese factory in Cรดte d’Ivoire. The long pipe could be a pipe leading to the engines.

Nevertheless, Langbroek emphasises that the probability that debris will end up on inhabited areas is very small. โ€œThere is some concern, but it should not be exaggerated either.โ€