Part of an out of control missile will hit the ground

(CNN) – Space experts are tracking a part of a Russian rocket that will re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere uncontrollably over the next 24 hours.

Angara-A5 heavy-lift rocket was launched on Monday, December 27, from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia’s northwestern Arkhangelsk region. A new upper stage of the rocket, known as a Percy booster, was tested at launch. According to the state news agency TASS.

“It is safe to say that within the next 24 hours it will fall, but no one can say where, because within several hours it will circle the globe several times,” said Holger Kraj, head of the Space Debris Office. in the European Space Agency. to CNN.

Most space debris burns up when re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, but larger pieces can cause damage if they land in populated areas.

The Russian missile was traveling at 7.5 kilometers per second and its return latitude is likely to be between 63 degrees north and south of the equator, Kragh said.

danger level

He said that while it was unlikely to cause harm or harm to a person, “the danger is real and cannot be ignored.”

In May 2021, NASA They criticized China for failing to meet “responsibility standards” after the remains of a runaway rocket used to launch a Chinese space station fell into the Indian Ocean.

Cragg said he believed the piece of the Russian missile was smaller than the Chinese wreck, weighing about 4 tons without fuel, compared to 20 tons for the Chinese Long March-5B missile.

The Chinese Long March rocket was one of the largest objects in recent memory to collide with the Earth after leaving its orbit, after the 2018 incident in which a piece of a Chinese space laboratory fell over the Pacific Ocean and back in 2020 for a long one. March 5 rocket.

The Percy booster is about 10 meters long compared to the 32-meter Long March 5B rocket, said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the institute. Center for Astrophysics – Harvard and Smithsonian. Although it weighed less, it contained about 16 tons of propellant, he said.

“The total mass is roughly the same as the mass at the Chinese theater, but most of it will likely be liquid and will burn up in the atmosphere, so the risk to Earth is much lower. I think so,” McDowell said by email. .

original intentions

The astronomer added that the Russian stage of the missile was not intended to re-enter the 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 re-enter. The Chinese theater was re-entered by design, and they deliberately left it in low orbit.”

McDowell said the rocket phase will re-enter between 1 and 5 p.m. ET on Wednesday.

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

Cragg said international best practices for expendable parts for rockets or spacecraft at the end of their useful life have typically been to re-enter and fall to Earth in an uninhabited area, usually a remote part of the Pacific Ocean.

On average, Cragg added, between 100 and 200 tons of space debris enters Earth’s atmosphere in an uncontrolled manner each year. Only one person is known to have been hit by space debris: a woman named Lottie Williams and Texas in 1997. lived to say.

CNN’s Kristen Fisher contributed to this report.

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