The rocket successfully launched the Tianhe module last week, which will become the living quarters of the future Chinese Space Station (CSS). Unfortunately, the 30-metre long rocket also reached orbit, and is now one of the largest ever launches to make an uncontrolled re-entry.
It is uncommon for rockets to reach the velocity necessary to reach orbit, but it is currently travelling around the world once every 90 minutes, or seven kilometres every second. It passes by just north of New York, Madrid, and Beijing, and as far south as Chile and New Zealand.
There are fears that the rocket could land on an inhabited area; the last time a Long March rocket was launched in May 2020, debris was reported falling on villages in the Ivory Coast. The speed of the rocket means scientists still do not yet know when it will fall, but it is likely to do so before 10 May 2021.
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Aerospace Corporation also suggests rocket has fallen – though notes it is hard to know for sure
The Aerospace Corporation, which has also been tracking the rocket as it fell and predicting its path, says that it thinks the rocket is down but notes the way it is tracked makes it difficult to know for sure.
“The absence of new data sets could indicate [the rocket] reentered,” it tweeted. “This fits both our own latest prediction’s uncertainty range and [Space-Track’s] predictions. Without confirmed video footage, a decay message or a new data set, we cannot yet confirm. We’re still watching.
“The data sets we use to make predictions are generated when the object we are tracking passes over one of a collection of sensors across the planet. We will know [the rocket] is down when it fails to pass over several of these sensors in a row.”
Space-Track says rocket is down
Space-Track, which has been providing tracking throughout the fall of the rocket, says that it is down.
(The Space-Track website has no doubt been suffering under the load, hence the crotchety instruction about staying off the website; it is usually used as a fairly technical and undramatic way of tracking objects in space.)
China announces destruction on Weibo
Here’s a post from Chinese authorities on Weibo, which seems to confirm the same. The translation is automated:
#The wreckage of the last stage of the Long March 5B Yao-2 carrier rocket has re-entered the atmosphere#
According to the China Manned Space Engineering Office, after monitoring and analysis, at 10:24 on May 9, 2021, the wreckage of the last stage of the Long March 5 B Yao2 carrier rocket has re-entered the atmosphere. The falling area is located in the surrounding waters of 72.47°E and 2.65°N. Most of the devices burn during the re-entry process. Erosion destruction.
Chinese tracking website goes down
The website of the China Manned Space Engineering Office, or CMS, appears to have gone down. It is presumably a result of the vast amount of traffics that are coming from what appeared to be something between a prediction and statement that the rocket came down earlier on.
Its statement said it had re-entered at 2.24am UTC (or about 45 minutes ago). It also gave co-ordinates that put it right in the middle of the Indian Ocean, as expected:
Videos from Middle East appear to show beginning of re-entry
Unconfirmed footage from the Middle East appears to show the beginning of the re-entry. That would fit with the growing rumours that the actual impact happened slightly later on, over the Indian Ocean.
And there’s this, too:
Trackers continue to show rocket moving around even as rumours that it has crashed increase
There’s a simple enough reason for that: the trackers are not actually tracking the rocket, but rather showing its projected journey. So they will keep moving, even after the real thing has re-entered and stopped doing so itself.
(That’s not to say it definitively has done so, yet...)
Re-entry seemingly soon to be confirmed
This appears to be semi-official confirmation that the rocket is down, and indicates we’ll be getting full confirmation sometime soon:
(That account seems to belong to someone working for the Space Force, and that tweet was retweeted by the Space-Track account, which is an officially sanctioned account.)
Fake photos of re-entry circulate on social media
People are trying to trick others into believing that dramatic pictures have been taken of the re-entry of the rocket. But they are something else entirely.
Chinese officials say rocket is expected to have crashed in Indian Ocean
According to an update published on the Chinese Manned Space Engineering Office website, which helps look after such operations, the rocket was expected to have crashed into the Indian Ocean about 25 minutes ago.
It is hard to tell whether the announcement is official confirmation that it tracked it coming down, or if it is just that engineers expected it to do so at that point.
But it would certainly make sense: it was seen very low in the Middle East, was expected to re-enter around now, and doing so in the Indian Ocean would explain why it wasn’t seen as it did so.
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