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.
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