Long 6A Rocket Spitting Out Over 50 Space Debris • The Register

The spent Long 6A rocket that launched China’s Yunhai-3 satellite shattered, scattering over 50 different chunks into low-Earth orbit after failing to fully dissipate upon re-entering the atmosphere.

The launch vehicle launched at 06:52 Beijing time (2252 UTC on November 11) on November 12 from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in China. The satellite was successfully lifted into orbit, according to an announcement by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight, a subsidiary of rocket maker China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.

But a problem caused the Long 6A rocket’s upper stage to rupture rather than burn up in one piece in Earth’s atmosphere as it plummeted back down. The US Space Force estimated It broke apart at around 0525 UTC on Nov 12 at an altitude of 500-700 kilometers and produced over 50 pieces of debris in space.

At those distances, the component fragmented over China’s Tiangong space station, the International Space Station, and SpaceX’s Starlink satellites. Mao Ning, a spokeswoman for the Chinese government’s Foreign Ministry, confirmed the incident at a press conference in Beijing.

“As far as we know, the relevant incident will not affect the China Space Station or the International Space Station,” she said, according to the South China Morning Post.

The Long March 6A upper stage is designed to fall back to Earth in one piece and safely disintegrate upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. However, it is not clear what caused the rocket to break apart this time. Cees Bassa, an astronomer at ASTRON, a radio astronomy laboratory in the Netherlands, said an error may have occurred when trying to dump its fuel.

“Best practice is to either remove the upper stages of the rocket from orbit after releasing its payload, or to jettison fuel overboard to prevent these catastrophic failures,” Bassa said tweeted.

China’s space agencies have previously been criticized for dodgy missile orbits. In August, debris from the 23-ton rocket engine left over from China’s Long March 5B vehicle reportedly crashed again and tumbled into the sea near the Philippine coast, and shattered shards landed near Indonesia and Malaysia.

The falling debris is potentially dangerous, and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson criticized the Chinese government for disclosing the rocket’s trajectory as it fell back.

“All spacefaring nations should follow established best practices and do their part to share this type of information in advance to enable reliable predictions of the potential risk of debris impact, particularly for heavy-duty vehicles like the Long March 5B, which pose a significant risk of loss of life and property. This is critical to the responsible use of space and to keeping people safe here on Earth,” he previously said. ®

https://www.theregister.com/2022/11/16/spent_chinese_long_6a_rocket/ Long 6A Rocket Spitting Out Over 50 Space Debris • The Register

Rick Schindler

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