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No plans to shoot down Long March 5B booster; revised prediction

The Biden administration will make no attempt to shoot down the 21-ton core stage of China’s Long March 5B rocket, according to the Defense secretary Lloyd Austin:

At this point we don’t have a plan to shoot the rocket down. We’re hopeful it will land in a place where it won’t harm anyone. Hopefully in the ocean or someplace like that. I think this speaks to the fact that for those of us who operate in the space domain that there should be a requirement to operate in a safe and thoughtful mode and make sure that we take those kinds of things into consideration as we plan and conduct operations.

Meanwhile, the predicted reentry window has shrunk again, to 16 hours, and shifted so that its centerpoint is now over Egypt, as shown on this map by the Aerospace Corporation:

Aerospace prediction for Long March 5B reentry, May 6

The blue tracks indicate the stage’s path before that centerpoint, the yellow tracks after. The tick marks show 5 minute intervals. Thus, if it comes down just 8 minutes early it lands in Spain. Twenty-five minutes early puts it in Florida.

If it comes down one hour later than this centerpoint it will be crossing over the continental U.S.

Conscious Choice cover

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Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


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  • Calvin Dodge

    “… there should be a requirement to operate in a safe and thoughtful mode …”

    There is. It’s called “treaty”. Welcome to a classic example of the Communist attitude toward treaties.

  • Gary

    Yeah, I’ve noticed several stories trying to make the case this is a problem of nations who put objects I orbit vs the CCP deliberately flaunting existing protocols.

  • Jeff Wright

    This shows that the rocket is very like Atlas and R-7 lightly loaded…almost stage-and-a-half to orbit. This could be a wet-workshop, with mods…reduced payload. Skylab started off that way.

  • Jim Webb

    Is the 21 tons dry mass or wet?

  • Alton

    Correction 21 tons

  • The statement by Comrade Defense Minister Austin is not how a competent people operate. I am ashamed and appalled that such an individual is in charge of national defense. Honestly, a Denubian bloodworm has more spine.

    Still a chance the booster could hit China.

  • Jeff

    I was able to view the tumbling booster and the Tianhe-1 module just before dawn on Thursday May 6th. A guy in New York captured a closeup of the core module at the same time. Others have captured photos of the passes.

  • Paul


    I saw the booster (still tumbling) this (Friday) morning. The booster was over southern and southeastern Oklahoma at the time yet I could still see it from the Houston area. It was of course very low in the northern and northeastern sky. It would brighten to almost the brightness of Polaris with about a two second interval. I was expecting it to be a much more difficult observation.

  • John

    Didn’t know we could shoot down 20 tons in a decaying low earth orbit. Down is where it’s going anyway.

    We might have a shot at destroying a small reentry vehicle on a ballistic trajectory to and from known or assumed locations, but not 20 ton derelict hulks.

  • Jay

    You are correct that we never knocked out a 20 ton object. I think the biggest object to my memory was USA193, that was over 2 tons, and it was a kinetic hit. I tried to film its last pass without success in 2008.
    I think a shot at it would smash it into smaller pieces, but not obliterate it.

  • Chris Lopes

    Whether it could be done or not (I think not) the total lack of concern by both the Chinese and our own government (but I repeat myself) is the troubling part. Then the reflex to use the situation (that they don’t give a rat’s rear end about) to call for more international regulation (when the current set of regulations are being ignored) is preposterous.

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