That Long March 5B Core Stage Came Down in the Indian Ocean

by | May 13, 2021 | Daily Space, Rockets | 0 comments

CREDIT: Aerospace Corp. via Spaceflight Now

You may remember that China launched the first bit of their space station on April 29. The launch itself went fine and the core module successfully achieved orbit. What didn’t go nominally was the deorbit burn of the 22-ton, 30-meter long core rocket stage. A deorbit burn brings things like huge rocket stages down through the atmosphere to either burn up on re-entry or a planned impact in the ocean or other uninhabited space. Because that deorbit burn didn’t happen, no one knew when or where re-entry of this massive rocket stage would occur.

For reference, this was the largest uncontrolled re-entry of space debris since the decay of the Soviet Union’s Salyut 7 space station over Argentina in 1991. The size and mass of this re-entry are only equaled by the large and uncontrolled reentry of the Long March 5B Y1 core stage re-entry approximately a year ago. That reentry resulted in pieces impacting a village in the Ivory Coast.

Fortunately, this re-entry didn’t hit any inhabited areas. Instead, the core stage impacted the ocean south of Malé, the capital city of the Maldives, on May 9 at 02:24 UTC. Re-entry was observed as far west as Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, indicating the object began burning up at that point. It is not known if any pieces hit land from the reentry this past weekend.

More Information

U.S. military tracking unguided re-entry of large Chinese rocket (Spaceflight Now)

Reentry predictions for the Chinese CZ-5B rocket stage 2021-035B (SatTrackCam)

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