It Appears We'll Have to Get Used to China's Crashing Rockets

A Chinese official announced plans to increase the launch rate of these rockets within the next few years less than a week after China's Long March 5B rocket staged an uncontrolled reentry through Earth's atmosphere.

The Long March 5B rocket will now be used to launch a "multi-satellite network," according to Liu Bing, director of the general design department at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, in an interview with local media. Liu was probably alluding to the nation's ambition to construct the Guo Wang internet satellite megaconstellation, which will have over 12,000 satellites in orbit.

According to Liu, "the Long March 5 series of rockets will be transferred to the high-density launch stage in the coming years to meet the needs of the country for large-scale and quick access to space."

China has been launching modules for its Tiangong space station using its Long March 5B rockets. The third and last component of the space lab was most recently sent into orbit by the heavy-lift rocket in the form of the 23-ton Mengtian lab module.

Long March 5B launches have been deemed troublesome since the rocket's booster falls to Earth after launch and it is impossible to know with certainty where it will land. A Long March 5B booster crashed into the atmosphere on November 4 over the southern central Pacific Ocean, with debris falling to the southwest of the Mexican coast. Spain had to close its airspace due to the risk posed by the falling debris during its erratic descent. Thankfully, no casualties were reported, although the rocket's uncontrolled reentry has had close calls in the past.

This was the fourth occurrence in which the core stage of the Long March 5B fell in an unpredicted direction. Two years ago, the rocket's first launch resulted in debris that dropped onto the Ivory Coast and damaged people's property. The booster crashed into the Indian Ocean during the rocket's second launch, far from any populated regions. However, during its third journey in July 2022, it made a second entry into the atmosphere, which was visible from Malaysia as space debris fell on parts of Indonesia and the Philippines.

NASA administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement last year that it was "obvious that China is failing to satisfy acceptable norms for their space debris." "To ensure the safety, stability, security, and long-term viability of outer space activities, China and all spacefaring states and commercial organizations must operate responsibly and transparently in space."

China, on the other hand, doesn't appear to care about its rockets dropping. The late reentry burns that long March 5B rockets must conduct, which call for some extra fuel, are not their intended use. These burns enable the rocket to direct itself toward uninhabited areas, usually the ocean. Additionally, controlled reentries call for extra parts, which would reduce the rocket's overall cargo capacity.

It's unclear whether China will alter their rockets so they can make controlled reentries. It appears doubtful that Chinese officials intend to modify the Long March 5B given that they have previously stated little to nothing about the falling rockets and that the rocket is now in widespread use.

The possibility of being hurt or having property damaged by falling rocket debris is remote but not nonexistent. By scattering debris close to inhabited regions on two of its four launches, China's Long March 5B rocket has come dangerously close. Additionally, planes were delayed as a result of Spain's airspace being closed. So, despite the fact that no one has been wounded as of yet, these errant boosters are a source of concern and inconvenience. China must accept responsibility for its errant rockets and abide by established international norms to protect the general populace.

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