ESA to lead international effort to track falling Chinese space station


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The European Space Agency has taken the lead position in an international effort to track China’s falling Tiangong-1 test space station module.

The goal of the effort is to improve the accuracy of predicting the fall of such objects. Tiangong-1, at 8.5 tons, is big enough for some pieces to survive re-entry and crash to the ground. Improving the predictions of where it will fall will reduce the chances of the debris causing harm.

I first read of this effort from this news story, which contained in its last sentence one piece of interesting news having nothing to do with Tiangong-1:

The next such launch [of a Chinese space station module] will be of the Tianhe core module around 2019 on a new Long March 5B rocket, the country’s largest and most powerful so far. [emphasis mine]

It appears China has quietly renamed its big Long March 5 rocket, adding a “B” to the name. This name change strongly indicates what I have suspected for months, that the July launch failure has required China to significantly redesign the rocket. Apparently, the poor performance of the rocket’s first stage engines was caused by fundamental design problems.

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