Currently there’s a 23-ton, 100-foot-long Chinese rocket in a decaying orbit over the Earth going 17,300 miles per hour. Experts believe it will be falling to Earth this weekend. The truly terrifying part is that these same experts don’t know when it’s going to crash or where.
“It’s potentially not good,” said Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at Harvard’s Astrophysics Center told The Guardian.
Last month, the rocket, a China National Space Administration (CNSA) Long March-5b core stage, launched the first module of China’s new space station into low Earth orbit. Since then, the rocket has been falling back to Earth.
The chances the rocket will hit anything are small. After all, 71 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered in water. In fact, Chinese officials downplayed the idea it would hit anything at all, saying it would likely fall into international waters. Having said that, the last time CSNA used this same kind of rocket, falling debris supposedly hit the Ivory Coast village of Mahounou.
To be sure, this isn’t the first time things sent up to space came back down in an uncontrolled manner. In 1977, pieces of the U.S.S.R.’s nuclear-powered Cosmos 954 fell across northwestern Canada, spilling radioactive debris. Then in 1979, pieces of Skylab, the first U.S. space station, came down across Western Australia. In May, part of a SpaceX Falcon 9 landed on a farm in Washington state. To date, there have been no deaths or serious injuries due to falling space debris.
The Aerospace Corporation, a nonprofit space research and development organization that’s tracking the rocket, now predicts it will land in the ocean off the eastern coast of Africa. However, it should be noted that in the last week they’ve also guessed it was going to land just off the western coast of Australia or on Sudan.
U.S. Space Command, which is also tracking the rocket, says they won’t be able to pinpoint a location until a few hours before reentry. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said there were no plans to shoot down the satellite.
“We’re hopeful that it will land in a place where it won’t harm anyone. Hopefully in the ocean, or someplace like that,” Austin told reporters.
With this in mind, when you’re making plans this weekend, you might want to add “Find a good satellite tracker” to your to-do list.
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