Watch Out Below!
Heads up, literally. This weekend, China plans to launch a powerful Long March 5B rocket called the Wentian from the Wenchang Space Launch Site in Hainan — and taking into account the history of the country's Long March 5B spacecraft, it's pretty likely parts of the rocket will crash land back onto Earth.
As Gizmodo reports, the 174-foot-tall rocket launching this Sunday from Hainan is the third of its kind, all of which have thus far made chaotic, haphazard re-entries that resulted in unpredictable crashes around the world.
Following a launch back in 2020, uncontrollable Long March 5B debris crashed into Africa's west coast, thankfully hurting no one but damaging some structures. Then, just last spring, the Chinese government confirmed that debris from the same model had hurtled into the Indian Ocean after widespread speculation about where it would land.
NASA condemned the 2021 crash at the time, with agency chief Bill Nelson declaring in a statement that it was "clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris."
As Gizmodo points out, space agencies are lucky that no people have been hurt so far by showering chunks of space junk. Yet according to a study published in Nature Astronomy, the next decade presents a 10 percent risk that the debris will indeed cause human casualties — and that doesn't even take animal and environmental impact into consideration.
China is in the process of constructing its Tiangong space station — that is, the nation's answer to the US- and Russia-managed ISS. The Long March 5B rockets are being used to help build the orbital outpost, and it's probably safe to say that the nation will continue to launch them until Tiangong is complete.
Unfortunately, experts think that this weekend's launch is cause for concern. When Gizmodo asked Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, if another crash is likely after Sunday's takeoff, the scientist was less than optimistic.
"I would say it is almost certain," said McDowell. "I will be very pleasantly surprised if they have changed the core stage design. I expect they have not and we are up for another ride like the last time."
READ MORE: Another Chinese Rocket Could Be Headed for a Dangerous Uncontrolled Reentry [Gizmodo]
More on space junk solutions: China Crashed Spacecraft into the Moon so It Wouldn't Become Space Junk