“Whoever gets it, the crap” is more or less how China approaches the subject of deorbiting its missiles. The successful launch of the Wentian lab module for their space station means that a very large amount of debris will fall out of space somewhere.
China’s Space March
China’s space program has been a continuous success story for several years. Of course, rocket failures happen mostly in their quasi-private startups, but … in the West it is no different. One of the most striking examples of China’s growing power in Earth orbit is the rapid construction of China’s space station in the Middle Kingdom, called Tiangong, the Heavenly Palace.
On April 29, 2021, the base module of the Tianhe station was launched into orbit, and since then the station has been occupied intermittently by three taikonauts. China, it is true, skillfully uses the stations to promote its space program at home and abroad. Taikonauts from there have regular lessons for children, and foreign scientists are encouraged to “bring” their research on board.
However, in order to attract more foreign scientists, it needs to be completed, that is, the main module should be supplemented with two large experimental modules, Wentian and Mengtian. The first-named has just entered orbit and has no problem docking with the station, the second is due to join it in October. This means that from the beginning of 2023, a Chinese offensive can be expected among Western scientists.
Of course, the Chinese facility will not be as large a structure as the International Space Station, but it is a very interesting and ergonomically designed modern facility. Faced with mounting technical and political problems with the ISS, the station is a very strong card in Chinese hands, and its importance will grow in the coming years.
A spoonful of tar
While China can only be commended for the station’s design and pace of construction, it increasingly appears that nothing has changed in their approach to the subject of rocket space debris. Elements of the station launch large and heavy Chang Zeng 5B rockets, the upper part of which weighs over 20 tons, into orbit. Already in the past, their uncontrolled ejection from orbit caused nervousness in the countries through which the used module was directed.
Fortunately, there was no accident with people then, the debris reached the Earth and fell on the surface of the oceans, uninhabited areas of the Ivory Coast and somewhere around the Arabian Peninsula. China itself downplayed the matter and made the embarrassing argument that other people did it too…
In Wentian’s case, the Middle Kingdom also failed to inform others of the collapse of the rocket’s remains. Therefore, everyone expects a similar scenario as until now, “who will it fall on, this shit”. Will China and especially the people living in the flight path of this module be lucky this time? We’ll see in the next few days.
Unfortunately, China doesn’t seem to be doing anything about this problem anytime soon. The next big rocket, Chang Zeng 9, will fly in the disposable version no earlier than 2026, and in the renewable version in the 1930s. At the moment, it does not look like the relatively new Chang Zeng 5 (first flight in 2017) will see any modifications, and we will probably see such “Chinese space roulette” for several more years, again in October.