How To Track China’s Out-Of-Control Rocket As It Hurtles Towards Earth

2021-05-08 18:38:42

China’s Long March 5B rocket is set to make what the U.S. military has described as an uncontrolled reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere this weekend — though its exact entry point remains unknown.

U.S. and European tracking centers said Saturday that the rocket, which is traveling at 18,000 mph, is expected to plunge back through the atmosphere late Saturday or early Sunday.

Chinese officials have offered assurances that the falling rocket will mostly burn up upon reentry and has “a very low probability of causing harm” to people or property. But as CNN noted, the European Space Agency has predicted a potential “risk zone” that encompasses a huge swath of the globe — including “virtually all of the Americas south of New York, all of Africa and Australia, parts of Asia south of Japan and Europe’s Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece.”

There are several ways to track the rocket’s progress as it heads towards Earth.

U.S. Space Command has been updating with details about the rocket’s path, though the site requires users to create an account to use it.

The Aerospace Corporation has been tracking the rocket on its Twitter feed, as has Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Center for Astrophysics.

YouTube channel CosmoSapiens has also been maintaining a livestream about the rocket’s progress.

Long March 5B lifted off from China’s Hainan island on April 29. It successfully launched China’s first space station module, Tianhe, which is unmanned. 

According to SpaceNews, the rocket “will be one of the largest instances of uncontrolled reentry of a spacecraft and could potentially land on an inhabited area.” 

McDowell told Reuters that while it’s unlikely that the rocket’s debris will land on a populated area, it’s not beyond imagining. Last May, debris from the first Long March 5B rocket reportedly damaged several buildings in Côte d’Ivoire.


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