PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The core of a Chinese rocket that lifted off last week is spiraling out of control in the earth’s orbit. As it makes its unpredictable descent toward the ground, experts are tracking its path to see where it will eventually crash. Franklin Institute’s Chief Astronomer Derrick Pitts spoke with Eyewitness News about the out-of-this-world predicament.
Last Wednesday, China launched a massive Long March 5B rocket carrying a core module component for its newly-planned space station. The initial launch of this 100-foot rocket went as planned, but now, that the core module detached from the launcher there is no reentry plan for the remaining debris.
“Typically, today, when space-fairing countries launch something of that size into space, they automatically write into its programming or its equipment a way for it to be de-orbited safely, either in an ocean somewhere or for it to burn up upon reentry,” Pitts said.
The core, currently traveling at over 17,000 miles per hour, makes an orbit around the earth approximately every 90 minutes. While the high speed makes predicting the reentry path and location extremely difficult, there is some good news about when it does crash.
“Number one, 75% of the Earth’s surface is covered in water. So more than likely it’s going to fall into an ocean. On the other hand, a lot of the landmasses of the world are uninhabited,” Pitts said.
This means the most likely scenario is a water landing or a crash in an unpopulated part of the globe. However, that doesn’t mean it couldn’t land in a place like Philadelphia.
“The chances that it would land in a populated location are very, very small and if you get specific about it and say one place, in particular, that’s a really, really, slim possibility,” Pitts said.
This problem came up only a year ago in May 2020 as another Long March 5B rocket passed directly over Los Angeles and New York City before eventually crashing off the coast of West Africa.
And just this past March, an American Space Z rocket put on a wild display over the cities of Seattle and Portland as debris crashed down.
While there is no public governmental tracking service for this rocket, you can find people online who are following it and at this time we expect the landing sometime this weekend.