Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Chinese Long March 5B uncontrolled re-entry - somewhere near Maldives !!

Maldives is 1344km away from Chennai and would take  6.30 hrs by flight to reach. 

David Warner and Michael Slater are in a group of 39 Australians, comprising players, coaches and support staff, to have flown to Maldives on Thursday on a charter flight organised by the BCCI.  Star opener David Warner and cricketer-turned-commentator Michael Slater have denied reports of their involvement in a drunken bar brawl in Male, where Australian cricketers competing in the now-suspended IPL are waiting to board a flight home in a few days’ time. According to the ‘Daily Telegraph’, Warner and Slater got into a late night physical altercation after a heated argument at the Taj Coral Resort where they are in quarantine.  Slater had made headlines after he lambasted threats of jail time and fines for returning Australians put in place by his government as a “disgrace” and said Prime Minister Scott Morrison had “blood” on his hands.

Maldives, is a small archipelagic state in South Asia situated in the Indian Ocean. It lies southwest of Sri Lanka and India, about 700 kilometres (430 mi) from the Asian continent's mainland. The chain of 26 atolls stretches from Ihavandhippolhu Atoll in the north to Addu Atoll in the south (across the Equator). Comprising a territory spanning roughly 298 square kilometres (115 sq mi), Maldives is one of the world's most geographically dispersed sovereign states as well as the smallest Asian country by land area and, with around 557,426 inhabitants, the 2nd least populous country in Asia. Malé is the capital and the most populated city.

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.  Sounds an innocuous statement but was in fact a threat to humanity, downplayed!

The Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Orbital Reentry and Debris Studies (CORDS) was in news for its tracking the reentry path of the rocket body from the Chinese Long March 5B (CZ-5B) launch of April 29. The CORDS’ graphic has generated a lot of questions such as, “what exactly am I looking at?” and “am I in the path of debris?”  .. …. as it often happens, people like us could make out nothing but could get some solace seeing that the curves did not touch India !!

The good news is that the  bulk of the rocket was destroyed as it re-entered the atmosphere, but state media reported that debris landed just west of the Maldives this morning IST. There have been days of speculation over where the rocket might land, and US officials and other experts warned its return risked potential casualties.  There were some reports too that US would shoot it with a missile if it were to come anywhere closer to their land !

But China insisted the risk was low. The news is Long March-5b vehicle re-entered the atmosphere at 10:24 Beijing time (02:24 GMT) on Sunday, state media reported, citing the Chinese Manned Space Engineering office. There were no reports of injuries or damage. U.S. Space Command  too stated that it can confirm the Chinese Long March 5B re-entered over the Arabian Peninsula at approximately 10:15 p.m. EDT on May 8. (around 745 am IST) but added that it is  unknown if the debris impacted land or water.  More to follow with a very terse statement - USSPACECOM does not conduct direct notifications to individual governments. The exact location of the impact and the span of debris, both of which are unknown at this time, will not be released by U.S. Space Command.

It said debris from the 18-tonne rocket, one of the largest items in decades to have an undirected dive into the atmosphere, landed in the Indian Ocean at a point 72.47° East and 2.65° North.  The monitoring service Space-Track, which uses US military data, said the rocket was recorded above Saudi Arabia before it fell into the Indian Ocean near the Maldives and stated that it would not be releasing any further statements on this. .. …  . the  uncontrolled return of the rocket led to pointed criticism from the US amid fears that it could land in an inhabited area. US and European websites tracked its return, and there was much speculation on social media about where the debris might land.

"Spacefaring nations must minimise the risks to people and property on Earth," US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement. "It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris." The main segment from the Long March-5b vehicle was used to launch the first module of China's new space station last month. Originally injected into an elliptical orbit approximately 160km by 375km (99 miles by 233 miles) above the Earth's surface on 29 April, the Long March-5b core stage soon began to lose height.

NASA has lambasted China for its failure to "meet responsible standards" after debris from its out-of-control rocket likely plunged into the Indian Ocean.  "Spacefaring nations must minimize the risks to people and property on Earth of re-entries of space objects and maximize transparency regarding those operations," said NASA Administrator Sen. Bill Nelson in a statement released on the space agency's website Sunday. "China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris," he added.  Generally, the international space community tries to avoid such scenarios. Most rockets used to lift satellites and other objects into space conduct more controlled reentries that aim for the ocean, or they're left in so-called "graveyard" orbits that keep them in space for decades or centuries. But the Long March rocket is designed in a way that "leaves these big stages in low orbit," said Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Astrophysics Center at Harvard University. 


It is stated that the threat was real and Chinese rocket debris crashing into Earth is not the first time and perhaps not the last too.  The threat to populated areas of land was not negligible, but fortunately the vast majority of Earth's surface area is consumed by oceans, so the odds of avoiding a catastrophic run-in were slim. The rocket is one of the largest objects in recent memory to strike the Earth after falling out of orbit, following a 2018 incident in which a piece of a Chinese space lab broke up over the Pacific Ocean and the 2020 reentry of an 18-metric-ton Long March 5B rocket.

Despite recent efforts to better regulate and mitigate space debris, Earth's orbit is littered with hundreds of thousands of pieces of uncontrolled junk, most of which are smaller than 10 centimeters. Objects are constantly falling out of orbit, though most pieces burn up in the Earth's atmosphere before having a chance to make an impact on the surface. But parts of larger objects, like the Long March rocket in this instance, can survive reentry and threaten structures and people on the ground.

"There's no international law or rule — nothing specific — but the practice of countries around the world has been: 'Yeah, for the bigger rockets, let's not leave our trash in orbit in this way.'"  . .. .. and when bigger Nations commit harm, it would get buried – but the same Nations would talk of green gas emission and other pollution as though committed only by Third world countries.  The loud and clear message is – ‘ you are expected to put down your airconditioners, refrigerators and every other thing of utility while the big brothers would experiment and leave the results untested’.

S a d .. .. ..

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
9th May 2021.
  

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