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Chinese rocket tracker LIVE: 21-ton booster could HIT highly-populated area this weekend as US won’t shoot it down

CRASH LANDING

EXPERTS are rushing to determine where the Chinese rocket part will land after it went out of control.

They've warned it could reach "as far north as Chicago, New York City, Rome and Beijing and as south as New Zealand and Chile".

China launched its first space station on Thursday in the first of 11 missions that will see a three-person crew sent up by the end of 2022.

But the rocket part that broke off as planned was due to have a controlled re-entry - until Chinese authorities lost the ability to coordinate its landing.

It is now circling the Earth and is expected to crash land this weekend, with scientists trying to pinpoint the exact location it will hit.

Although it has the potential to hit in a highly-populated area, the Pentagon has already refused to shoot it down.

Follow our Chinese rocket live blog for all the latest news and updates...

  • WHAT IS THE LONG MARCH 5?

    Long March 5 are heavy rockets developed by China to be a cornerstone of its space ambitions.

    It can carry weights of up to 55,000lbs into low Earth orbit, and 31,000 into geostationary orbit.

    The two stage rocket is similar in capability to the US Delta IV Heavy - and is regarded as the third most powerful rocket in the world after the Delta and SpaceX's Flacon Heavy.

    It is 187ft high, 16ft in diameter and weighs an incredible 1,883,900lbs.

    Seven of the rockets have been launched - with one failure back in July 2017.

    China has another seven launches planned - including two more delivering parts to an under construction space station in 2022.

  • HOW DO EXPERTS STOP OUT-OF-CONTROL SPACE JUNK FROM HITTING POPULATED AREAS?

    What can the space industry be doing to avoid these types of uncontrolled reentries from happening in the future?

    Marlon Sorge, principal engineer at the Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies (CORDS) at The Aerospace Corporation says "there are established methods for analyzing the reentry breakup of any object we launched into space.

    This includes "determining the casualty risk to people on the ground. If the risk exceeds a threshold, one should mitigate the risk by either altering the design or changing the reentry.

    "For rocket stages, this usually means planning a controlled reentry into a broad, open area such as an ocean — the southern Pacific is a common target.

    "Controlled reentries, particularly for a large object, require considerable planning and will have a significant impact on the design and payload capacity of the stage. Nevertheless, this is a preferred approach in international standards and is rapidly becoming a global norm."

  • REENTRY ‘OCCURRING WHERE BULK OF POPULATION LIVES’... MORE

    However, the statistical risk to any one person of being struck by falling space debris is very low, says Marlon Sorge, CORDS principal engineer at the Aerospace Corporation.

    He says the chance of that happening is "so low that a colleague of mine jokes that if reentry predictions put his house directly under the path, he’d go out with a camera and watch".

  • REENTRY 'OCCURRING WHERE BULK OF POPULATION LIVES'

    The probability that a piece of space junk will land on a city or a densely populated area is usually relatively small, says an expert.

    "What makes this reentry particularly noteworthy is that it will occur between 41.5 deg N and 41.5 deg S latitudes, where the vast bulk of the world’s population lives," adds Marlon Sorge, CORDS principal engineer at the Aerospace Corporation.

  • EUROPEAN FLIGHT CONTROL ISSUES WARNING TO AIRCRAFT

    The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) have issued a warning to aircraft to be aware of the incoming fall of the Long March 5B.

    In a safety bulletin, it urged all operators be alert of the the potential fall but said its "unlikely" it will hit near a "populated area, an airport, or major air route".

    It said: "[It] has an estimated mass ranging from 17 to 21 tons and a length of around 30 , which makes it one of the largest pieces of debris re-entering the atmosphere during recent years, therefore it deserves careful monitoring."

    EASA urged airmen to "monitor developments" and take into considerations updates from the European Union Satellite Centre.

  • CHINESE ROCKET FALLING TO EARTH

    A huge Chinese rocket making an out-of-control tumble from space looks set to crash back to Earth this weekend as experts warn that debris from the impact could hit an inhabited area.

    Calculations of the 21-ton booster's trajectory predict that it will fall on Saturday, US time, though where it will land "cannot be pinpointed until within hours of its re-entry", the Pentagon said.

    The US Space Command is tracking debris from the spacecraft, which lifted off last week carrying the first module of China's new space station.

    At roughly 30 metres (100ft) long, the booster stage would be among the biggest pieces of space debris ever to fall back to Earth.

    Experts have warned that debris from the crash could land anywhere in a "red zone" that contains major cities including New York and Madrid.

  • CHINA COULD HAVE CONTROLLED RE-ENTRY WITH DESIGN

    China could have designed their rocket so it had a controlled re-entry - but choose not to, experts have said.

    The rocket is currently hurtling at 18,000 mph back towards Earth and is likely to crash down somewhere in the Indian Ocean or Pacific on Sunday.

    However, there is a small probability it could hit land and an even small risk it could crash into a populated area.

    Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, said the rocket's free fall was "negligent" and "irresponsible".

    Dr McDowell said China could have designed the rocket to fall in a way it posed no danger, but it was an "engineering decision based on probabilities".

  • NO CONTROL OVER ROCKET PART

    "The probability that any random reentry will land in the ocean is about 3:4, since the Earth is about 75 per cent covered by oceans," according to Marlon Sorge, principal engineer at the Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies.

    The expert added: "Normally the first stage of a rocket and its strap-on boosters are not designed to reach orbit.

    "Their trajectories are planned so that the stage and any strap-on boosters fall into a safe area, usually in the ocean.

    "In this case the first stage core of the rocket reached orbit. That means that it was no longer able to control where it would reenter without a deorbit maneuver."

  • ROCKET COULD HIT CHICAGO, NEW YORK OR ROME - EXPERTS

    The rocket stage’s orbital inclination of 41.5 degrees means that reentry can be as far north as Chicago, New York City, Rome and Beijing, explains Aerospace in the US.

    Or, it could end up as far south as New Zealand and Chile.

    That places any of those locations within the potential reentry path of this giant piece of space junk measuring 98 feet long and 16.5 feet wide and weighs 21 metric tons, the experts add.

  • EXPERTS WORRIED

    A large Chinese rocket stage is expected to reenter Earth’s atmosphere in hours, and experts are concerned about the potential impact of the debris.

    The Long March 5B successfully launched a 22.5-metric-ton core module of China’s first space station last week.

    During the launch, the first stage of the Long March 5B also reached orbital velocity instead of falling downrange as is common practice.

    That placed the empty rocket body in an elliptical orbit around Earth where it is being dragged toward an uncontrolled reentry in the coming days, explains the Aerospace Corporation.

  • LONG MARCH ROCKET PLUMMETED ON TO VILLAGES 2020

    In 2020, debris from another Long March rocket fell on villages in the Ivory Coast, causing structural damage but no injuries or deaths.

    Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said that although there was no need to worry "too much", the rocket's design needed a re-think to stop such a scenario happening again.

    "There is a real chance of damage to whatever it hits and the outside chance of a casualty," he said.

    "Having a ton of metal shards flying into the Earth at hundreds of kilometres per hour is not good practice, and China should redesign the Long-March 5B missions to avoid this."

  • CHINESE ROCKET 'HEADED FOR NEW ZEALAND'

    New Zealand's North Island is the latest "informed prediction" for where the out-of-control Chinese rocket might land, according to a report.

    In a tweet on Friday evening the Aerospace Corporation's Centre for Orbital Reentry and Debris Studies (CORDS) said its latest "informed prediction" showed near the North Island as a likely location, reports the New Zealand Herald.

    But, China's foreign ministry said that most rocket debris would be incinerated upon re-entry and unlikely to cause any harm.

  • 'NO PLANS' TO SHOOT DOWN ROCKET

    Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin earlier said that the US military had no plans to shoot it down, and suggested that China had been negligent in letting it fall out of orbit.

    "Given the size of the object, there will necessarily be big pieces left over," said Florent Delefie, an astronomer at the Paris-PSL Observatory.

    "The chances of debris landing on an inhabited zone are tiny, probably one in a million."

  • WATER LANDING LIKELY

    Although there has been fevered speculation over exactly where the rocket - or parts of it - will land, there is a good chance any debris that does not burn up will just splash down into the ocean, given that the planet is 70 percent water.

    "We're hopeful that it will land in a place where it won't harm anyone," said Pentagon spokesman Mike Howard.

    Howard said the US was tracking the rocket segment but "its exact entry point into the Earth's atmosphere cannot be pinpointed until within hours of its re-entry".

  • CHINESE PLAYING DOWN ROCKET CRASH LANDING

    Beijing has downplayed fears and said there is a very low risk of any damage from its rocket.

    A Long March-5B rocket launched the first module of China's new space station into Earth's orbit on April 29.

    Its 18-ton main segment is now in freefall and experts have said it is difficult to say precisely where and when it will re-enter the atmosphere.

    Re-entry is expected today, Saturday, according to the Pentagon.

    Chinese authorities have said most of the rocket components would likely be destroyed on re-entry.

    "The probability of causing harm… on the ground is extremely low," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters on Friday.

  • ROCKET CRASH SITE CANNOT BE PINPOINTED

    Scientists monitoring the fall of the Chinese rocket Long March 5B will not be able to pinpoint its crash site until just hours before it makes re-entry.

    However, it will most likely hit the Pacific Ocean near the equator after passing over eastern US cities, according to the US Space Command.

    At roughly 30 metres (100ft) long, the booster stage would be among the biggest pieces of space debris ever to fall back to Earth.

    China on April 29 launched the first of three elements for its station atop the Long March 5B rocket that is now being tracked.

    The body of the rocket “is almost intact coming down,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday.

  • EUROPEAN FLIGHT CONTROL ISSUES WARNING TO AIRCRAFT

    The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) have issued a warning to aircraft to be aware of the incoming fall of the Long March 5B.

    In a safety bulletin, it urged all operators be alert of the the potential fall but said its "unlikely" it will hit near a "populated area, an airport, or major air route".

    It said: "[It] has an estimated mass ranging from 17 to 21 tons and a length of around 30 , which makes it one of the largest pieces of debris re-entering the atmosphere during recent years, therefore it deserves careful monitoring."

    EASA urged airmen to "monitor developments" and take into considerations updates from the European Union Satellite Centre.

  • CHINESE ROCKET COULD CRASH DOWN TONIGHT

    The 18-ton chunk of the Long March 5B could crash down as early as tonight, according to the Pentagon.

    Pentagon spokesman Mike Howard said: “We’re hopeful that it will land in a place where it won’t harm anyone.”

    Re-entry is expected to be around 2300 GMT – so 1900 EST – on Saturday, with a window of plus or minus nine hours either side

    Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said: “The probability of causing harm… on the ground is extremely low.”

  • CHINA COULD HAVE CONTROLLED RE-ENTRY WITH DESIGN

    China could have designed their rocket so it had a controlled re-entry - but choose not to, experts have said.

    The rocket is currently hurtling at 18,000 mph back towards Earth and is likely to crash down somewhere in the Indian Ocean or Pacific on Sunday.

    However, there is a small probability it could hit land and an even small risk it could crash into a populated area.

    Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, said the rocket's free fall was "negligent" and "irresponsible".

    Dr McDowell said China could have designed the rocket to fall in a way it posed no danger, but it was an "engineering decision based on probabilities".

    Ted J. Muelhaupt, principal director of Aerospace’s Center for Orbital and Re-entry Debris Studies, told The New York Times: "It’s not a trivial thing to design something for a deliberate re-entry, but it’s nevertheless something that the world as a whole has moved to because we needed to."

  • WHAT IS THE LONG MARCH 5?

    Long March 5 are heavy rockets developed by China to be a cornerstone of its space ambitions.

    It can carry weights of up to 55,000lbs into low Earth orbit, and 31,000 into geostationary orbit.

    The two stage rocket is similar in capability to the US Delta IV Heavy - and is regarded as the third most powerful rocket in the world after the Delta and SpaceX's Flacon Heavy.

    It is 187ft high, 16ft in diameter and weighs an incredible 1,883,900lbs.

    Seven of the rockets have been launched - with one failure back in July 2017.

    China has another seven launches planned - including two more delivering parts to an under construction space station in 2022.

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