Out-Of-Control Chinese Rocket Tumbling To Earth Expected To Crash-Land This Weekend

by : Daniel Richardson on : 05 May 2021 12:16
Chinese Rocket Crash PA Images/PixabayPA Images/Pixabay

A Chinese rocket that lost control is expected to return to crash-land this weekend, and there are concerns about the damage it will cause. 

China has been expanding its space program with lunar missions and an increasing number of rockets. However, not all of these ventures have been a success. In fact, a rogue 21-ton Long March 5B is expected to crash back to Earth this weekend.


The rocket was responsible for sending Tianhe, a key part of the development of a Chinese Space Station, into orbit on Thursday, April 29. The rocket has since lost control, and now a 100-foot-long, 16-foot-wide rocket body is expected to return to Earth. Many are worried about the impact of the giant rocket.

PA Images RocketPA Images

US Department of Defense spokesperson Mike Howard explained the current situation:

U.S. Space Command is aware of and tracking the location of the Chinese Long March 5B in space, but its exact entry point into the Earth’s atmosphere cannot be pinpointed until within hours of its reentry, which is expected around May 8.


There are fears that the rocket will fall on the US, damaging properties and hurting people – particularly as previous rockets of this type have caused carnage in other countries.

Speaking to The Guardian, Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics detailed the dangers involved in this crash-landing rocket:

It’s potentially not good.

Last time they launched a Long March 5B rocket they ended up with big long rods of metal flying through the sky and damaging several buildings in the Ivory Coast.

Most of it burned up, but there were these enormous pieces of metal that hit the ground. We are very lucky no one was hurt.

PA Images Space StationPA Images

It is hoped that most of the rocket will burn up as it re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere. Despite this, McDowell has criticised this uncontrolled landing that could endanger lives. He told SpaceNews, ‘I think by current standards it’s unacceptable to let it [the core stage] re-enter uncontrolled.’

Many will hope that the rocket lands in an unpopulated area, but questions about the Chinese rockets will undoubtedly linger.

There will likely be calls for the rockets to face greater regulation if they run the risk of damaging other countries. With that said, it seems that China is committed to its space program and it may be difficult to slow down this progress despite the dangers it presents.

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Daniel Richardson

After graduating from university, Dan went on to work with a variety of tech startups and media outlets. Through working with the likes of Game Rant, The Hook and What Culture, Dan pursued his interests in technology. The skills he picked up along the way are now being utilised with UNILAD.

Topics: Technology, China, Now, Space, Tech


The Guardian and 1 other
  1. The Guardian

    Long March 5B is doing 27,600km/h in failing orbit, with eventual crash site unknown, after launching space station hub The Long March5B rocket launched a module of China’s space station on 29 April. The rocket’s core is expected to make an uncontrolled re-entry this week. The Long March5B Chinese rocket launched a module of the country’s space station on 29 April. The rocket’s core is falling out of Earth’s orbit and is expected to make an uncontrolled re-entry this week. Photograph: VCG/Getty Images Alison Rourke Tue 4 May 2021 03.55 BST 3523 Part of a huge rocket that launched China’s first module for its Tianhe space station is falling back to Earth and could make an uncontrolled re-entry at an unknown landing point. The 30-metre high core of the Long March 5B rocket launched the “Heavenly Harmony” unmanned core module into low Earth orbit on 29 April from Wenchang in China’s Hainan province. The Long March 5B then itself entered a temporary orbit, setting the stage for one of the largest ever uncontrolled re-entries. Some experts fear it could land on an inhabited area. China launches first module of new space station Read more “It’s potentially not good,” said Jonathan McDowell, Astrophysicist at the Astrophysics Center at Harvard University. “Last time they launched a Long March 5B rocket they ended up with big long rods of metal flying through the sky and damaging several buildings in the Ivory Coast,” he said. “Most of it burned up, but there were these enormous pieces of metal that hit the ground. We are very lucky no one was hurt.” On Tuesday the core was orbiting Earth around every 90 minutes at about 27,600km/h and an altitude of more than 300km. The US military has named it 2021-035B and its path can be seen on websites including orbit.ing-now.com. Heavenly Harmony: China launches first module of new space station – video 01:13 Heavenly Harmony: China launches first module of new space station – video Since the weekend it has dropped nearly 80km in altitude and SpaceNews reported that amateur ground observations showed it was tumbling and not under control. This, and its speed, makes it impossible to predict where it will land when Earth’s atmosphere eventually drags it down, though McDowell said the most likely outcome is that it will fall into the sea, as the ocean covers about 71% of the planet. But McDowell says some pieces of the rocket will survive re-entry and that it would be the “equivalent of a small plane crash scattered over 100 miles”. Since 1990 nothing over 10 tonnes has been deliberately left in orbit to re-enter uncontrolled. The Long March 5B core stage is thought to be about 21 tonnes. “What’s bad is that it’s really negligent on China’s part. Things more than ten tonnes we don’t let them fall out of the sky uncontrolled deliberately,” McDowell said. Based on its current orbit the rocket is passing over Earth as far north as New York, Madrid and Beijing and as far south as southern Chile and Wellington, New Zealand, and could make its re-entry at any point within this area. Given its velocity, a small change in its path could make a big difference to where it ends up. It’s expected to return to Earth on 10 May, plus or minus two days. McDowell said once it’s clear the day it is returning to Earth, experts could predict its landing time within a six-hour window. The rocket’s launch was part of 11 planned missions as part of the construction of China’s space station, which is expected to be completed in late 2022. The T-shaped space station is expected to weigh about 60 tonnes, considerably smaller than the International Space Station, which launched its first module in 1998 and weighs about 408 tonnes. China’s space station will have a docking port and will also be able to connect with a Chinese satellite. Theoretically it could be expanded to as many as six modules. You've read 7 articles in the last year 200 years of the Guardian … … and we’re just getting started. Join us in our birthday month, as we celebrate two centuries of independent, high-impact Guardian journalism. Times change, but principles don’t. Since 1821, tens of millions have placed their trust in our quality reporting, turning to us in moments of crisis, uncertainty, solidarity and hope. And this is just the beginning. Thanks to funding from more than 1.5 million Guardian supporters in 180 countries, we’ve remained open to all, and fiercely independent. With no shareholders or billionaire owner, we set our own agenda and provide truth-seeking journalism that’s free from commercial and political influence. When it’s never mattered more, we can investigate and challenge without fear or favour. 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  2. SpaceNews

    Huge rocket looks set for uncontrolled reentry following Chinese space station launch