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Alert over fall of debris from Chinese Long March 5B rocket: where it could fall and risk of damage to life and property

The first stage of the Chinese Long March rocket is likely to fall uncontrollably to Earth this weekend, 30 and 31 July and could hit the continental US.

Alert over landfall sites for debris from Long March 5B rocket

The remains of a Chinese rocket could hit southern Europe, or the continental US this weekend, with a possibility that the impact takes place on land. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) issued the warning, stating that the debris from the Long March 5B rocket is expected to enter the atmosphere between Saturday July 30 and Sunday July 31, falling uncontrollably to hit the Earth’s surface.

The European Union’s Satellite Surveillance and Tracking Service (SST) has studied the possible routes that the remains of the rocket could follow, “one of which could potentially affect the airspace of southern Europe”, the EASA explained in the statement.

In Europe, specifically, the countries that may be affected are Bulgaria, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain, according to the bulletin, which has published the following image on the possible paths the rocket debris could take as it falls to Earth.

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Chinese rocket left to fall uncontrolled to Earth

The rocket, the Long March 5B, was launched on July 24 from the island of Hainan (southern China) and successfully placed a new space station module in orbit, however China opted not to control the disposal of the first stage of the rocket, which will is now falling back to Earth. The stage weighs some 21 tons, making it “one of the largest pieces of debris to re-enter the atmosphere in recent years”, according to the security bulletin issued by EASA.

Although the EASA has said the risk of damage to human life and property is low, it has advised all national aviation authorities of the affected countries to periodically monitor the predictions of the route. It has also recommended that they adapt risk assessments as the situation evolves and that they consider “implementing and notifying airspace restrictions on a 200 km wide route” around each of the possible paths the debris could take.

U.S. authorities have not issued warnings over Long March debris

As yet the U.S. military, either Space Command or the 18th Space Defense Squadron that tracks re-entries, has not yet issued alerts over the re-entry of the Long March 5B rocket, but the world map tracker provided by the EASA shows the debris path criss-crossing the US.

Alert over landfall sites for debris from Long March 5B rocket
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Possible paths for the debris from the Long March 5B rocket

Back in 2021 the first stage of a Long March 5 rocket fell uncontrolled in the Arabian peninsula without causing any damage to humans. The Chinese government has played down concerns of danger surrounding the rocket. China’s foreign ministry has said in the past that the likelihood of issues “causing harm on the ground is extremely low.”


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