A Russian Rocket Failed to Stay in Orbit, Crashed Back to Earth
Last year on December 27, the Russian Angara A5 rocket blasted off to space on a test mission. Its upper stage booster, Persei, was designed to stay in orbit but Earth's gravity proved too strong for it and it returned back to Earth in an uncontrolled descent on January 5, CNET reported.
Rocket launch failures are quite common in space circles and also get a lot of media attention. However, many things can go wrong after a launch. As the saying goes, what goes up must come down, and spacecraft are no exception. Speaking to CNN, Holger Krag, head of the European Space Agency's Space Debris Office, said that, on average, 100-200 tons of space junk enters the Earth's atmosphere every year.
This number also includes spacecraft that have reached the end of their lifetimes and are brought down to Earth in a controlled manner. Most of these end up in an uninhabited part of the Pacific Ocean, minimizing risk to human life. However, others like the Persei booster do not get the chance for that.
At about 33 feet (10 m), the Persei booster weighed about four tons while carrying about 16 tons of propellant onboard. And most of the propellant would have burnt upon re-entering the Earth's atmosphere, Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Center for Astrophysics - Harvard & Smithsonian told CNN while tweeting that the object does not pose a threat to us.
To be clear, I do NOT regard this object as a significant risk. Reentries for a object with dry mass of about 4 tonnes may see some debris reach the ground, but not much.— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) January 5, 2022
Last year, a Chinese rocket had a similar uncontrolled splashdown that wasn't dealt with so lightly. NASA had then called it "failing to meet responsible standards." The Long March 5B rocket was comparatively longer at 105 feet (32 m) even though it weighed the same at re-entry. McDowell told CNN that while the Russian re-entry was due to failure, the Chinese incident was by design. The rocket was intentionally left in low orbit.