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First Image Of Rogue Chinese Rocket Set To Plummet To Earth This Weekend

First Image Of Rogue Chinese Rocket Set To Plummet To Earth This Weekend

It is due to make an uncontrolled re-entry

Amelia Ward

Amelia Ward

The first image has emerged showing the Chinese rocket that is set to make an uncontrolled re-entry to earth. Here is the take off:

Debris from China's Long March 5B rocket, which launched from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in south China's Hainan Province last month, is expected to come crashing down to Earth this weekend.

However, the chances of debris actually hitting anyone are small - with much of the craft expected to burn up in the atmosphere and any surviving wreckage more likely to land in the ocean or uninhabited areas of the planet.

The debris from the spacecraft in the sky has now been photographed for the first time.

Taken by Gianluca Masi, an Italian astrophysicist, it was photographed on 5 May and posted online on the Virtual Telescope Project.

Debris from China's Long March 5B rocket photographed on 5 May.
Gianluca Masi/The Virtual Telescope Project

Masi managed to capture a 0.5 second exposure of the falling rocket, that shows it as a bright light hovering in the sky.

Describing the image, Masi wrote: "At the imaging time, the rocket stage was at about 700 km [435 miles] from our telescope, while the sun was just a few degrees below the horizon, so the sky was incredibly bright.

"These conditions made the imaging quite extreme, but our robotic telescope succeeded in capturing this huge debris."

After it launched, the core module of the Chinese spacecraft successfully separated from the rocket and entered the predetermined orbit, but the 100ft booster started circling Earth, uncontrolled - rather than falling into a designated spot in the ocean, as is common for used rockets.


According to SpaceNews, the core stage's orbital inclination of 41.5 degrees means the rocket body passes 'a little farther north than New York, Madrid and Beijing and as far south as southern Chile and Wellington, New Zealand', and could 'make its re-entry at any point within this area'.

However, US space command said in a statement this week the exact point the rocket will impact Earth's atmosphere will only be known hours before re-entry.

Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer who tracks objects orbiting Earth, told the outlet: "I think by current standards it's unacceptable to let it re-enter uncontrolled."

The incident has sparked controversy around the way space traffic is managed, with the White House weighing in on the situation when asked for a comment by reporters on Wednesday (5 May).

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told journalists: "The United States is committed to addressing the risks of growing congestion due to space debris and growing activity in space.

"We want to work with the international community to promote leadership and responsible space behaviors. It's in the shared interests of all nations to act responsibly in space to ensure the safety, stability, security and long-term sustainability of outer space activities."

McDowell added: "Since 1990 nothing over 10 tons has been deliberately left in orbit to re-enter uncontrolled."

Holger Krag, the head of the Space Safety Programme Office for the European Space Agency, told SpaceNews: "It is always difficult to assess the amount of surviving mass and number of fragments without knowing the design of the object, but a reasonable 'rule-of-thumb' is about 20-40% of the original dry mass."

Featured Image Credit: PA/Gianluca Masi

Topics: World News, space