Russian rocket stage makes uncontrolled entry into Earth’s atmosphere


The Angara-A5 heavy rocket was launched from the Plesetsk spaceport in the Arkhangelsk region of northwest Russia on Monday, December 27. The launch was testing a new rocket upper stage, known as the Persei thruster, according to to the public press agency TAS.

Most space debris burns upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere and poses an extremely minimal risk to humans, but it is possible that larger pieces could cause damage if they landed in inhabited areas.

But on Wednesday, US Space Command – which had tracked the rocket thruster during reentry – said the rocket re-entered Earth’s atmosphere at 2:08 p.m. MST over the South Pacific Ocean. It is 4:08 p.m. ET.

However, it may not be possible to determine exactly where the debris landed.

Earlier on Wednesday, the head of the European Space Agency’s space debris office, Holger Krag, said that part of the Russian rocket was moving at 7.5 kilometers per second (4.7 miles per second) and that its re-entry latitude was probably between 63 degrees north. and south of the equator.

Risk level

While it is highly unlikely that the rocket will cause damage or injure anyone, “the risk is real and cannot be ignored,” Krag said.

In May 2021, NASA blasted China for his failure to “meet accountability standards” after wreckage from an uncontrollable rocket used to launch the Chinese space station plunged into the Indian Ocean.

The Russian rocket part is said to be smaller than the Chinese debris, weighing around 4 tons without fuel, compared to around 20 tons for the Chinese Long March 5B rocket, Krag said.

The Chinese Long March rocket was one of the largest objects in recent memory to hit Earth after falling from orbit, following an incident in 2018 in which a piece of a Chinese space lab s shattered over the Pacific Ocean and the re-entry in 2020 of another March 5 Long Rocket.

The Persei thruster was about 10 meters (33 feet) long compared to China’s 32-meter (105-foot) Long March 5B rocket, according to Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Center for Astrophysics – Harvard and Smithsonian. While weighing less, it carried around 16 tonnes of propellant on board, he said.

The “total mass is about the same as the Chinese scene, but most of it is probably liquid and will burn in the atmosphere, so the risk to the soil is significantly less. I think,” McDowell said by e -mail.

Original intentions

He added that the Russian rocket stage was not intended to enter Earth’s atmosphere in this way.

“It was supposed to end up in an orbit where it would stay for thousands of years. The rocket could not restart. The Chinese re-entry was by DESIGN, they deliberately left it in a low orbit,” he said. -he declares.

Russian space agency Roscosmos told CNN the launch was being operated by the Russian Defense Ministry, which did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

The international best practice for rocket parts or spacecraft worn out at the end of their useful life was generally to perform a controlled reentry and fall to Earth in an uninhabited area – usually a remote part of the Pacific Ocean, a Krag said.

Krag added that on average, 100 to 200 tons of space waste re-enter Earth’s atmosphere uncontrollably each year. We know that only one person was hit by space debris: a woman named Lottie Williams in Texas in 1997. She was unharmed and lived to tell the story.


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