Explained: As Chinese rocket debris plunges into ocean, the risks of space junk and its uncontrolled descent

Source: The post is based on the articleExplained: As Chinese rocket debris plunges into the ocean, the risks of space junk and its uncontrolled descentpublished in Indian Express on 31st July 2022.

What is the News?

The debris from a large Chinese rocket – the Long March 5B — crashed to earth over the Pacific and the Indian oceans. 

What is an uncontrolled re-entry?

Generally, the core or first stage of a rocket is made up of heavy pieces that usually don’t reach orbit after liftoff, and fall back safely along a near-precise projected trajectory.

If they do enter an orbit, then a costly de-orbit manoeuvre is required for a steered, controlled return using engine burn. Without a de-orbit manoeuvre, the orbital core stage makes an uncontrolled fall.

Most nations’ rockets separate the launcher from the payload before leaving the atmosphere. An extra engine then gives the payload a final boost. But China’s Long March 5B series does not use a second engine and pushes right into orbit. 

Are there laws regulating space junk?

The Space Liability Convention of 1972 defines responsibility in case a space object causes harm. 

The treaty says that a launching State shall be absolutely liable to pay compensation for damage caused by its space objects on the surface of the earth or to aircraft, and liable for damage due to its faults in space. The convention also provides for procedures for the settlement of claims for damages.

However, there is no law against space junk crashing back to earth.

Were there any settlements made under the Space Liability Convention?

The only settlement using the Liability Convention was between the erstwhile Soviet Union and Canada over the debris of Soviet Cosmos 954 falling in a barren region.

Canada was paid CAD 3 million in accordance with international law for cleaning up the mess.

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