The remnants of the massive Long March 5B rocket that sent a new module to China’s space station Sunday are expected to fall sometime next week.
“Although it will break up as it enters the atmosphere, numerous pieces — some of them quite large — will reach the surface,” Michael Byers, a professor at the University of British Columbia, told CNN.
Byers added that the uncontrollable reentry is “entirely avoidable” with modern technology.
“This risk is entirely avoidable since technologies and mission designs now exist that can provide controlled reentries,” he said.
Byers noted that the rocket fragments pose minimal risk and will likely fall into remote areas of the ocean. However, there is a chance they could also hit a population center.
Astronomer Jonathan McDowell also noted the rocket stage was not “actively deorbited.”
Two objects cataloged from the CZ-5B launch: 53239 / 2022-085A in a 166 x 318 km x 41.4 deg orbit, 53240 / 2022-085B in a 182 x 299 km x 41.4 deg orbit. Orbital epoch of ~1200 UTC confirms that the inert 21t rocket core stage remains in orbit and was not actively deorbited.
— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) July 24, 2022
He added that in comparison to Chinese launches, the United States does a “better job of upper stage disposal, and China on average a worse one.”
As of Tuesday morning, the U.S. military, either through Space Command or the 18th Space Defense Squadron, has not yet commented on the rocket fragments’ reentry. Aerospace Corporation, which also tracks and can provide information regarding man-made space materials as they make reentry, has not issued an update via social media.
China successfully docked its Wentian space station module after the Long March 5B rocket sent it to space.