China test-launched its new single-stage Long March 5B rocket last May, in the launch of the first leg of its space station ambitions. Now its massive 20-ton core is whipping around Earth in a low orbit and none of the experts have a clue on where it will land.
The core of the Long March 5B will reenter the Earth sometime next week as one of the "largest instances of uncontrolled reentry of a spacecraft and could potentially land on an inhabited area."
It is estimated that the roughly 100-foot object is orbiting Earth every 90 minutes and zips past north of New York, Beijing and as far south as New Zealand.
It has been reported that this isn’t the first time that China has let its “space junk” fall haphazardly back to Earth -- including the time it apparently let a rocket booster drop onto one of its own villages, spewing toxic fuel and destroying at least one building. During the initial launch of the Long March 5B, “space trash” from the launch largely burned up in the atmosphere before some of the debris survived long enough to slam into West Africa.
The doomed core passed right over New York City, Ars reported -- and if re-entry had been just a few minutes earlier, debris could reportedly have showered the Big Apple.
You can track the core here.
Jonathan McDowell, a spaceflight observer, told the website that since 1990 there have been no instances of any spacecraft over 10 tons that have "been deliberately left in orbit to reenter uncontrolled."
"It’s potentially not good," McDowell said. "Last time they launched a Long March 5B rocket they ended up with big long rods of metal flying through the sky and damaging several buildings in the Ivory Coast."