A Chinese rocket is expected to fall to earth over the weekend and “could impact flights planned” to a wide range of European holiday destinations.
The warning comes from the Civil Aviation Authority, which said: “The European Union Space Surveillance and Tracking [EU SST] consortium has been tracking a large space rocket and estimate it will re-enter earth atmosphere between Saturday 30 and Sunday 31 July.
“The potential re-entry path does not bring any debris over the UK, but could impact flights planned through Bulgaria, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain
“Operators are advised to monitor the situation carefully.”
The rocket is the Long March 5B. It blasted off on Sunday 24 July, launching Wentian – the second module of the Chinese large modular space station, Tiangong.
The mission was successful.
The rocket weighs around 23 tonnes and is 53m long – “which makes it one of the largest pieces of debris re-entering in the near past,” according to the EU SST.
“Therefore it deserves careful monitoring.”
The EU SST operations centres have narrowed down its re-entry window to 30-31 July. The rocket is likely to land in the sea – because oceans cover most of the earth’s surface – but it may fall on a populated area.
The rocket will re-enter the earth’s atmosphere at a height of 80km and could be anywhere in a band between 41.47 degrees north and south of the equator.
This takes in much of southern Europe – from Portugal and Spain to Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey – including most of the Mediterranean.
Much of Asia and the US, most of Latin America and all of Africa and mainland Australia are within the band.
The EU SST says: “These predictions however come with uncertainties as the object is uncontrolled, and a better estimation will only be possible a few hours before the actual re-entry.
“Operations centres will keep performing analyses to produce the best possible estimation for the expected re-entry location and time.”