What are the chances that a rocket re-entering Earth will endanger our lives?

This weekend, the remains of a Chinese Long March 5B rocket fell uncontrollably into the Indian Ocean. During several days, The NASA and other international agencies expressed their concern due to the lack of information in this regard: it is not the first time that this type of situation has occurred.

It won’t be the last either.

But what are the real chances that a rocket re-entering Earth will endanger the lives of human beings?

Generic illustration about space debris surrounding the Earth.

A group of Canadian scientists, led by Michael Byers, conducted the study. In his words, the next space debris falling on the surface of our planet can cause very real casualties: “the odds are greater than people think.”

According to Byers and his team, there is a one in 10 chance that a piece of spacecraft large enough to injure someone or cause property damage will survive the journey through the atmosphere in the next ten years.

Let us remember that, when passing through the atmosphere, any space debris disintegrates. But it also all depends on its size: the larger the device, the larger its remains can be without burning.

This is how the conclusion was reached about the probabilities that the remains of a rocket affect humans

Aaron Boley, astronomer at the University of British Columbia and co-author of the study, spoke with the Space portal about it.

“The lack of a major incident has led people to not be as concerned about it,” he said.

The team of researchers used two methods to reach their conclusion.

In the first, he analyzed orbiting satellites with perigees (the closest point to Earth) up to 600 kilometers: that’s about 651 total that fit that criteria. The researchers combined, according to Space, this information with the population density under each rocket’s low orbit.

The second method took the number of uncontrolled rocket body re-entries over the past 30 years, projecting those numbers into the next decade.

The result: There is a 10% chance that an accident will occur in the next decade that puts people or their property at risk.

China and space debris falling to Earth

Between 2020 and 2022, debris from China’s Long March 5 rocket fell on the Ivory Coast and the Indian Ocean, in the latter case twice. No incidents caused injuries, but criticism was generated.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson noted on Saturday:

“The PRC did not share specific information about the trajectory when its Long March 5B rocket fell to Earth. All spacefaring nations should follow established best practices and do their part to share this type of information early.”

Will it happen, with the passage of time, some disaster to regret?

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