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Could Chinese space debris really disrupt your flight this weekend?

July 29, 2022
2 min read
Could Chinese space debris really disrupt your flight this weekend?
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Security lines. Lost luggage. Flight cancellations. Melting runways. We’ve seen all kinds of issues hampering our ability to fly this summer — but we sure didn’t have space debris on our 2022 bingo card.

A Chinese rocket is expected to hurtle back into the Earth’s atmosphere this weekend, with the potential to affect scheduled flights around the globe.

According to the EU’s Space Surveillance and Tracking (EU SST), the rocket is estimated to start re-entry at around 12:24 a.m. GMT (7:24 p.m. EDT). The cosmic detritus, it says, is the “largest pieces of debris re-entering in the near past” and “therefore deserves careful monitoring.”

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The possible re-entry locations for the rocket lie anywhere along the green lines. This image from the EU SST shows places, marked in red, where those lines cross European countries. The re-entry point is predicted to happen at an altitude of 80 km. (Image courtesy of EU SST)

In the U.K, its Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has said: “The potential re-entry path does not bring any debris over the U.K. but could impact flights planned through Bulgaria, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain. Operators are advised to monitor the situation carefully.”

How likely is it that debris could strike a flight, you ask? Highly, almost ridiculously, unlikely.

One industry source familiar with the situation told TPG that customers “shouldn’t worry.”

Spain is just one of many places the rocket debris could land. (Photo by F.J. Jimenez/Getty Images)

The rocket itself is China’s Long March 5B, which was fired last Sunday, July 24, in order to send the Wentian module to the Tiangong Space Station.

Weighing 23 tons, the booster could land anywhere between 42 degrees north and south of the equator, re-entering the earth’s atmosphere at a height of 80 km, authorities say.

So far it’s estimated that the debris will have a tumbling speed of 3.3 seconds per revolution, “which suggests a fairly fast rotation,” according to the EU SST.

Featured image by Featured photo by Javier Zayas Photography / Getty Images.
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases