The impending atmospheric re-entry of a Chinese Long March 5B missile body is reminding experts of a much bigger problem.
Long March 5B put the core module of the Chinese space station into orbit on April 28th. Now satellite and space debris monitoring groups are watching the core stage of the large rocket that will soon fall uncontrollably to Earth. Remnants of debris from the fiery fall could reach Terra Firma.
According to one report, the hardware will crash in an elliptical orbit and fall to Earth in a few days, possibly as early as May 9th.
But it’s hard to say where the missile will land: no one knows exactly when and when the missile body will die. In short, the missile body equation creates a dilemma.
Extent of the problem
“It’s really not about this one rocket body … because every rocket body in orbit is uncontrolled,” explains TS Kelso from CelesTrak, an analytical group that keeps an eye on objects orbiting the earth.
The true extent of the problem can be determined by a quick review by CelesTrak.
“It shows that there are 2,033 missile bodies in orbit … at least the ones we have orbital data for, as there may be more classified ones. Of course, each of them is uncontrolled. Of the 2,033, 546 belong to the US and only 169 to China.
“Maybe we all need to be more responsible and not leave uncontrolled missile bodies in orbit,” Kelso told Inside Outer Space.
Where are they?
But the US isn’t even the worst offender in terms of booster debris orbit. That would be Russia with 1,035 missile bodies.
“There are another 66 missile bodies in orbit that we have no data for because they are classified,” noted Kelso. That is, there is no “where are they?” Orbit elements available. “Most have no idea what orbit they are in, so they can reenter or just run into something else in orbit, pretty much without warning.”
One of these is from a 1967 launch and eight are from 1970s launches, Kelso added.
There are 32 missile bodies in orbit only for the 2020 launch. Fifteen of these space debris are Chinese. Ten have been lofted by the US, five of them on classified missions, Kelso said.
“The problem is that the number should be zero and we must all start working now to make sure we don’t make this problem worse,” Kelso concluded. “But the bottom line is that we must all do better to keep things from staying in orbit after their intended use and to find safe ways to remove them.”
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