Long March 5B core stage returns to Earth over Atlantic Ocean


The core stage of China’s biggest rocket, the Long March 5B, made an uncontrolled re-entry over the Atlantic Ocean today, only about fifteen minutes after passing almost directly over New York City.

While the size of the Long March 5B’s core stage made Monday’s unguided re-entry remarkable, most of the rocket was expected to burn up as it plunged back into the atmosphere. Most of the rocket was made up of hollow propellant tanks, but the dense turbomachinery of the core stage’s two YF-77 main engines could have survived the fall from space.

It appears that the design of that core stage includes engines that cannot be restarted, which means every single Long March 5B launch will include a similar uncontrolled re-entry.

As a signatory to the Outer Space Treaty, China is liable for any damage or harm done by any space object they launch into space. I guess they figure they are already liable for the Wuhan flu, a falling rocket can’t make that much difference anymore.

14 comments

  • Jerry Greenwood

    For a second I was worried Georgia was getting bombarded with Chinese scrap metal.?

  • Jerry Greenwood: Typo on my part. The headline should have read “Atlantic.” I have fixed.

  • Captain Emeritus

    Suppose the Communist Chinese rocket body had re-entered over the west coast, to impact somewhere in middle America, would we have just watched helplessly and hoped for a good outcome?
    Can we intercept re-entry vehicles, only at known locations and predetermined times?
    Why do we deploy anti ballistic missile systems?
    We let a “good crisis go to waste”.

  • wayne

    Captain Emeritus–
    I’m definitely not qualified to comment but I’ll give it a short go–

    I assume (that’s always dangerous….) we actively tracked it from launch so we had a good idea where it was going and refined the impact site location all the way down. —atmospheric drag & tumbling being huge variables— It’s also travelling quite a bit slower than an reentry-vehicle from an ICBM.

    As for shooting it down– I have no clue what the operational ranges are for the PAC-3, Aegis, and THAAD missile defensive systems. I also have no clue what each shot costs us to fire, or where they are deployed. And I’ll make an assumption—the lethal parts are the engines, everything else is shrapnel, we could probably hit it, but that wouldn’t ensure the whole mass was fragmented below harmful size.

    good techy stuff–>

    THADD Missile’s 1st Launch
    *2012*
    https://youtu.be/5FkloqnxhmI
    6:00

  • wayne

    Flight Test THAAD-23
    August, 2019
    https://youtu.be/D0zqSUqUuCI
    2:14

    “U.S. Missile Defense Agency, Ballistic Missile Defense System Operational Test Agency, and U.S. Army soldiers of the E-62 Battery, 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, conducted an intercept test of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) element of the U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense System.”

  • pzatchok

    We would not intercept it.

    For one they tend to fall to pieces on re-entry. We can not tell which ones will hit the Earth.
    We can shoot anywhere from 4 to ten 5 million dollar missiles at it or take the risk and hand out 5 million dollars to each victim.

  • Col Beausabre

    Atlanta was going to be bombarded….Old Uncle Billy would have approved….

  • Col Beausabre

    My advice to everyone downrange is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSCJHLCcbp8

  • Tom

    Hitting it with an expensive missile would only diced it up a bit. The “big chunks” would, most likely, still have been intact and about on the same trajectory. I doubt that the ABM weapon has the ability to target, and home in on, the lower engine section of the booster. It is probably programmed to go for the center section. And a solid hit is not assured for objects traveling at 17.5K+ MPH while coming from different points of origin. If it was successful and impacts the booster, lots of those “little chunks” would be lifted to a higher orbit and become unwelcome additions to the debris cloud orbiting overhead. This exact scenario happened when China sent an ABM weapon up and destroyed one of their obsolete “weather satellites” about ten years ago. The event added huge amounts of debris above us.

    The safest, and smartest thing to do is let it come down in one piece. But, one thing we can all agree on, the people running China are not out friends.

  • Col Beausabre

    ” I doubt that the ABM weapon has the ability to target, and home in on, the lower engine section of the booster”

    This has been known to be a problem since at least the First Gulf War. One method of determining warheads from decoys proposed is atmospheric sorting with heavy objects like warheads (or engines) retaining their speed better than lighter things like decoys or debris and separating by following a different trajectory due to drag. Results, if any, are classified. What works in theory may not work in practice and you may need a layered defense with short range interceptors like Iron Dome, the US doesn’t have (the US army plans to buy two batteries to protect deployed troops), to intercept the warheads or heavy components. At some point in the future, heavy duty lasers might do the job. The USN has already deployed a laser weapon https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AN/SEQ-3_Laser_Weapon_System so it would seem to be a matter of time before the powerful ones needed are developed.

  • sippin_bourbon

    Col Beausabre.

    Not sure if you are familiar with Iron Beam.
    The Isreali’s newest addition to rocket and mortar defense.

  • wayne

    ICBM Penetration Aid System
    1988
    https://youtu.be/ARnyIrDg6xk
    3:54

  • Cotour

    Result? +6 psi.

    Classic Wayne, makes me smile every time :)

  • wayne

    Cotour–
    I’ve had to learn to quit worrying, and love the Bomb.
    Radiation is just icing on the cake, it’s the blast that does it.

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