Spain’s airports shut down amid fears of out-of-control Chinese rocket likely to crash on Earth

Several Spanish airports have closed their airspace because of an out-of-control Chinese rocket, measuring over 20 tonnes, which is due to crash on Earth.

People watch as a rocket blasts off from the Wencheng Spacecraft Launch Site in China. (Photo: China News Service via Getty Images)

By India Today Web Desk: Several Spanish airports have closed their airspace because of an out-of-control Chinese rocket, measuring over 20 tonnes, which is due to crash on Earth.

Delays at Barcelona airport are expected to last all day on Friday while flights between Balearics and the UK are believed to be the worst affected.

Flights into and out of Tarragona, Ibiza and Reus are known to have been grounded with reports that other regions, including La Rioja and Castilla and Leon, have also been affected. The airport in Marseille, France, has also been put on high alert.

The measure is expected to last around 40 minutes, although local reports say places like Ibiza could be affected for up to three hours.

An aircraft takes off from Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat Airport in Spain’s Barcelona on Thursday. (Photo: Reuters)

A spokesman for Catalonia’s Civil Protection Agency confirmed: “Due to the risk associated with the passage of the CZ-5B space object crossing Spanish airspace, flights have been completely restricted from 9.38am to 10.18am in Catalonia and other communities. Airports and other organisations have already been informed.”

Spanish air traffic controllers tweeted: “Eurocontrol has informed us about the non-controlled re-entry of a Chinese rocket into the Earth’s atmosphere…Rate Zero has been established for certain parts of Spanish airspace and that could affect air traffic by way of delays and diversions.”

Some air passengers are understood to have been informed about the Spanish airspace closures after they had already boarded for take-off.

The rocket was scheduled to enter the Earth’s atmosphere in the early hours of Saturday, but the impact has been advanced to this Friday before 12:30 noon.

The booster is speeding around the globe at 17,500 miles per hour and the difference of even a few minutes would shift where it lands by hundreds of miles.

Flights in several Spanish airports have been grounded. (Photo: Reuters)

Canadian Astronomer Erika said the rocket should re-enter Earth on Friday and Spain is in its path. “The uncertainty of where the large debris will ultimately land presents a level of risk to human safety and property damage that is well above commonly accepted thresholds. If your latitude is higher than that of France or Portland, Oregon, you’re probably in the clear,” said Erika.

The Long March 5B (CZ-5B), China’s most powerful rocket, blasted off on October 31 from southern China to deliver the Mengtian laboratory cabin module to the Chinese space station under construction. The module, which weighs over 20 tonnes, is part of China’s ambitious space plan to create its own International Space Station.

Though the rocket is predicted to enter the Earth’s atmosphere on Saturday, aerospace experts are scrambling to determine the rocket’s path back home and have sought for more information from Chinese authorities.

The European Union Space Surveillance and Tracking service said the debris would most probably re-enter Earth’s atmosphere in the middle of the Atlantic and would likely land in the sea, but also warned that northern Spain and Portugal and southern Italy were also within the potential trajectory of the rocket.

“The statistical probability of an impact on the ground in populated areas is low,” the EUSST said. “These predictions, however, come with uncertainties, and a better estimation will only be possible close to the re-entry.”

The rocket is the fourth flight of the Long March 5B since its maiden launch in May 2020.

The rocket is the fourth flight of China’s Long March 5B since its maiden launch in May 2020.

On its first deployment, fragments of the rocket landed on the Ivory Coast, damaging several buildings in that West African nation, though no injuries were reported.

Debris from the second flight landed harmlessly in the Indian Ocean, while remnants from the third fell into the Sulu Sea in the Philippines.

China has insisted that uncontrolled re-entries are common practice and has dismissed concerns about potential damage as “shameless hype.”

The rocket’s re-entry into the atmosphere is a common international practice, Zhao Lijian, a spokesman at the Chinese foreign ministry, said at a regular briefing on Friday when asked if China had taken measures to reduce the risks.

“It is understood that the type of rocket you mentioned uses special technology designed so the vast majority of components that will be destroyed by ablation during re-entry into the atmosphere, and the probability of causing harm to aviation activities and the ground is extremely low,” said Zhao.

(With inputs from Reuters)

Edited By:

Raajnandini Mukherjee

Published On:

Nov 4, 2022

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