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Revised Long March 5B crash window

Aerospace's revised Long March 5B crash window
Click for original image.

The map above, reduced and adjusted to post here, shows today’s revised estimate by the Aerospace Corporation for where and when the 21-ton core stage of China’s Long March 5B rocket, launched on April 29th, will hit the ground. The reentry window has now narrowed to 22 hours, and is centered on May 8th at 10:29 pm (Eastern) over the Indian Ocean, just off the southwest coast of Australia. The yellow orbital tracks are after that centerpoint, while the blue are before. The tick marks indicate five minute intervals.

Expect these updates to come more frequently and continue to narrow in the next two days as the orbit continues to decay. Right now, if the stage comes down a little later than predicted there is ample opportunity for it to hit either Australia or the United States. Should it come down earlier, it right now could hit either Africa or Spain.

Note that the chances of this stage doing any real harm is quite slim, even it if lands on a populated area. It will break up during reentry so that any pieces that hit the ground will be much smaller. If anything, the debris will resemble somewhat the wreckage that fell when the space shuttle Columbia broke up over the U.S. in 2003 during its return to Earth. The impact of that wreckage injured no one on the ground, even as it did kill seven astronauts. Expect the same with China’s core stage.

The issue here is not the danger, but China’s gross negligence and violation of its treaty obligations in launching this rocket knowing the core stage was going to do this. No more Long March 5B launches can occur without them fixing the problem so that future core stages can be brought back to Earth in a controlled and safe manner.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

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  • I took issue with your use of the word “can”. There’s probably a ping back in moderation.

    Short version: Not only “can” another be launched, but “may” doesn’t apply either because there is no one to prevent it. There might be someone who can – has authorization to – forbid it, but there is no one who can prevent it. That is, China will do what it wants regardless of who says what.

  • Daniel J. Kaczynski

    Since a whiff of hydrazine will give someone quite the headache, I’m wondering
    if the Chicom vehicle has any residual hypergolic propellant or other toxic chemicals
    on board? Although it might be nice to get some free souvenirs which could be sold
    later on e-bay, I’d rather not have it come down in my back yard.
    Wasn’t this also an issue with the Columbia wreckage, or did NASA just try to scare
    people to discourage souvenir hunters?

  • Dick Eagleson

    The LM-5B core stage burns liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. As the stage has been tumbling since payload separation, it apparently has no attitude control system of any kind. Which implies it also has no hypergolics on-board. Getting conked on the noggin by a piece of this thing is still a danger, but getting a whiff of toxic gas doesn’t seem to be.

    The cautions issued by NASA about Columbia wreckage were entirely appropriate. Space Shuttles carried considerable quantities of toxic hypergolics to power their attitude control systems, the larger OMS engines used for initial orbital insertion and de-orbit burns and to power the auxiliary power units that provided hydraulic pressure for the aerodynamic controls during descent. There were numerous hypergolic tanks of various sizes in various places. All might well have survived re-entry. The danger to people on the ground was quite real.

  • Jeff Wright

    The SSME powerheads hit the ground at Mach 2

  • Col Beausabre

    Since no one else has mentioned it, I will. NBC is broadcasting on Mondays at 10PM Eastern the series called Debris, which is about space junk hitting Earth…ALIEN space junk

    Somebody at NBC has either a crystal ball or knows someone inside the Chinese politburo

  • Col Beausabre

    “White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday wouldn’t say if the U.S. would commit to calling on China to pay compensation in the event of damage caused by the rocket.

    “We’re not at this point — we’re certainly tracking its location through U.S. Space Command, and hopefully that’s not the outcome that we are working through,” she told reporters.

    So if you are injured or your property damaged – don’t expect the US government to be behind you – China is paying them too much.

    And they claimed Trump was a russian stooge…..


    “Let me first say that U.S. Space Command is aware of and tracking the location of the Chinese Long March 5B in space, and obviously, the Space Command would have more specifics on that tracking and any additional details,” Psaki said, adding that the U.S. “is committed to addressing the risks of growing congestion due to space debris and growing activity in space, and we want to work with the international community to promote leadership and responsible space behaviors.”

    Which doesn’t answer the question you were asked, – and you’re not fooling anyone with the gobblygook you just said to try to dodge answering the question.

    “A Defense Department spokesman told CNN the U.S. military is not considering a kinetic strike option to break up the rocket. The U.S. has demonstrated the capability in the past to shoot down debris entering the atmosphere.

    Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Wednesday that Space Command is tracking the rocket but that it is “too soon to explore options about what, if anything, can be done about this until we have a better sense of where it’s coming down.”

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