By Tova Shmulewitz
On April 29, 2021, a Chinese rocket named “Long March 5b” successfully entered into orbit around Earth. This rocket contained a part needed for a planned Chinese space station. The launch itself was successful, however, the core piece of the rocket, which carried the module for the space station, ran out of fuel and began circling Earth, and losing altitude. The 21-metric-ton rocket was headed for uncontrolled reentry to Earth, moving too fast for scientists or analysts to come up with a clear idea of where or when it might land. The breakdown of this reentry is as follows:
April 29th – “Long March 5b” is launched into a low Earth orbit.
April 30th – The core is observed as ‘tumbling,’ ‘not in control,’ and is reported to be circling Earth roughly every 90 minutes, rendering it impossible to know where and when it might land.
May 3rd – The core reached the incredibly fast speed of 27,600 km/h, and dropped in altitude by almost 80 km. It is expected to land around May 10, 2021.
May 6th – The US has no plans to shoot down the rocket, says Secretary of Defense Lloyd Auston, optimistic that it will not be harmful.
May 7th – It is still too soon to tell where the rocket will crash land, John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesperson, but it is being tracked. According to , Aerospace.org reported that reentry can be “as far north as Chicago, New York City, Rome and Beijing and as south as New Zealand and Chile.”
May 8th – It is reported that the rocket will re-enter Earth on May 9. Western US, South America, China, western and southern Africa, and northern India are all ruled out as potential landing sites.
5 p.m. – It is reported that the rocket will begin reentry between 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. EST.
8 p.m. – The window for reentry is specified to 9:11 p.m. to 11:11 p.m., with the possible location of reentry in the Mediteranean basin.
10:24 p.m. – Chinese officials report that the rocket has made reentry, in the Indian Ocean, near the Maldives. This information was confirmed.
May 9th – The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) criticises China for this incident, saying that “China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris.” It is still unclear if there has been any debris damage to the Maldives, although most of the remains were burnt before landing.
May 10th – China criticises the U.S., claiming that the media attention about this event was only in efforts to discredit and stop China’s space program.