On Sunday July 24, China sent the LongueMarche 5B rocket into space to install the second of the three modules of its space station under construction. A week later, part of the rocket – its main stage – will fall back to Earth, in a potentially huge area. The elements that will fall “are not very big”, said Friday July 29 on franceinfo Olivier Sanguy, specialist in space news at the Cité de l’espace in Toulouse. According to him, China relies on “the chances” that “fall into an ocean”. But he points to the problem of space debris for which “there is no binding international standard”. With LongueMarche 5B, we are faced with a question “geopolitics and diplomacy more than technical”believes Olivier Sanguy.
franceinfo: Why does this problem of the Long March 5B rocket not arise with all rockets?
Olivier Sanguy: He can ask. There is a precautionary principle. Generally for launchers, in particular for Ariane 5, trajectories are planned so that the stage, which is no longer of any use after having carried out its mission, falls in an area far from dwellings, generally in the South Pacific. There, this Chinese floor did not do this control procedure. It is a choice of the Chinese space agency. This allows for more performance, probably.
Why don’t some of these elements burn up when they fall?
Of the 20 tons, there will be barely two tons left. It is quite important. But there are elements that do not melt because they are designed to resist heat, especially everything that is motor. In the combustion chamber of a rocket booster, temperatures are 2,000 to 3,000 degrees. So even when entering the atmosphere, it will not melt. It is essentially these elements that will remain. Fortunately, they are not very big.
Does China Meet Space Debris Standards? NASA says no.
Geopolitically, we are clearly in a debate that is more diplomatic than technical. China says it is careful, but on the other hand, it recognizes that it does not control the re-entry. It’s a very different approach in terms of risk.
“China is counting on the fact – and it is true – that there is a good chance that it will fall into an ocean. But we on the Western side find that it is not enough and we want additional precautions.”Olivier Sanguy, specialist in space news at the Cité de l’Espace in Toulouse
You should know that before, at the beginning of the space age, we did not pay attention as we do today. There are no binding international standards. There is a desire for good practices. With space junk, space agencies say to make less junk when you launch. But that is a will.
Are there any penalties?
There is no international law that gives fines if safety procedures are not respected. This is something that clearly needs to evolve. There is a will on the part of all the space agencies. But imposing penalties is complicated because who applies the penalty? It is the State that is responsible for the space activity that takes place from its territory. So who is going to impose a sanction on the United States, on China, on Russia, on states capable of launching rockets into space? Who has the power to do this? It’s not simple. And there, again, we fall back on a geopolitical and diplomatic side more than a technical one.