China's falling Long March 5B rocket stage spotted from space (photos)

An Australian in-orbit satellite inspection company has imaged the big hunk of space junk.

space, universe, china's falling long march 5b rocket stage spotted from space (photos)
A Long March 5B rocket carrying the Mengtian module for China’s Tiangong space station launches on Oct. 31, 2022. (Image credit: CCTV)

A large Chinese rocket stage predicted to make an uncontrolled reentry into Earth’s atmosphere on Friday (Nov. 4) has been imaged by an orbiting satellite.

Australian company High Earth Orbit Robotics posted images (opens in new tab) of the Long March 5B first stage on Twitter on Wednesday (Nov. 2), showing the roughly 23-ton (21 metric tons) piece of space junk during its slow descent to Earth.

The images were taken from a distance of 221 miles (355 kilometers), according to HEO Robotics, using an optical imaging satellite belonging to the Argentina-based firm Satellogic.

Space-based sensors using HEO Inspect caught the #CZ5B rocket as it continues its uncontrolled re-entry back to Earth.Our space-to-space imagery and intelligence supports strategic decision-making and accountability efforts by making space transparent.Powered by @Satellogic 3, 2022

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HEO Robotics says it can “image anything within the solar system on demand,” and its services help “defense, governments and commercial operators visually monitor space objects with our in-orbit flyby inspection technology,” according to the company’s webpages.

The Long March 5B rocket successfully launched the Mengtian module to China’s Tiangong space station on Monday (Oct. 31). The launch also put the large first stage of the rocket into orbit, as has happened on previous Long March 5B missions as well.

space, universe, china's falling long march 5b rocket stage spotted from space (photos)

A visualization of the possible tracks the falling Long March 5B rocket body could take. Possible reentry locations lie anywhere along the blue and yellow ground tracks. Areas not under the lines are not exposed to the debris. (Image credit: The Aerospace Corporation)

This tends not to happen with other orbital rockets, whose first stages are designed to ditch into the ocean or over unpopulated land shortly after launch or, in the case of SpaceX vehicles, come down for vertical landings and future reuse.

The spent Long March 5B first stage is expected to make an uncontrolled reentry sometime on Friday (Nov. 4), according to the latest prediction from The Aerospace Corporation.

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