Debris from China rocket launch will crash land, but no one knows where

The 23-ton laboratory is the second module of the station to be built on Earth and shot off into space, the first having blasted off in late April 2021.

 Rescue workers carry Chinese astronaut Zhai Zhigang out of a return capsule after astronauts return to earth following the Shenzhou-13 manned space mission (photo credit: CHINA DAILY VIA REUTERS)
Rescue workers carry Chinese astronaut Zhai Zhigang out of a return capsule after astronauts return to earth following the Shenzhou-13 manned space mission
(photo credit: CHINA DAILY VIA REUTERS)

China has again launched a huge rocket into outer space, which will inevitably result in debris falling to Earth at a high speed — but nobody can say when or where The Washington Post reported on Monday.

The Long March 5B took off from the launch site in Wenchang, in the southern province of Hainan, on Sunday. Its purpose is to transport a new solar-powered lab to China's Tiangong Space Station.

"We argue that recent improvements in technology and mission design make most of these uncontrolled reentries unnecessary, but that launching states and companies are reluctant to take on the increased costs involved."

Unnecessary risks created by uncontrolled rocket reentries, published July 11 2022 in Nature

The 23-ton laboratory is the second module of the station to be built on Earth and shot off into space, the first having blasted off in late April 2021. At some point in the next several days, the rocket body will land on Earth. 

What the scientists say

A study published by Nature earlier this month asserted that, while the risk of casualties resulting from uncontrolled rocket body reentries on Earth is considered negligible by most, it "leads to the casualty expectation being disproportionately borne by populations in the Global South, with major launching states exporting risk to the rest of the world."

 Chinese astronauts Chen Dong, Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe attend a see-off ceremony before the launch of the Long March-2F carrier rocket, carrying the Shenzhou-14 spacecraft for a crewed mission to build China's space station, at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center near Jiuquan, Gansu province, China June  (credit: CHINA DAILY VIA REUTERS) Chinese astronauts Chen Dong, Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe attend a see-off ceremony before the launch of the Long March-2F carrier rocket, carrying the Shenzhou-14 spacecraft for a crewed mission to build China's space station, at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center near Jiuquan, Gansu province, China June (credit: CHINA DAILY VIA REUTERS)

Researchers also pointed out that most uncontrolled reentries are largely unnecessary. The technology to produce controlled reentries is simply more expensive, so it goes ignored.

Finally, the study's authors called for governments representing at-risk populations to demand that "major spacefaring states act, together, to mandate controlled rocket re-entries." 

Regardless of any evidence to the contrary, the Washington Post reported that China sees neither the recent launch nor last year's launch as irresponsible. 

Reuters contributed to this article.