AIRPORTS across Spain were shut down on Friday and hundreds of flights grounded or delayed over fears of an incoming debris from a Chinese rocket re-entering Earth.
The Spanish Air Force was scrambled while European space authorities and Spanish air traffic controllers monitored the 21-ton space junk’s trajectory as it passed over the country.
6Several Spanish airports were forced to close due to out-of-control debris from a Chinese rocket, pictured being launched on MondayCredit: Getty6Trajectory maps show the huge 21-ton piece of Chinese space junk passing right over Portugal and Spain6Passengers are being to expect delays and Spanish authorities keep the airspace shut to track the rocket’s trajectory (stock image)Credit: ReutersSpanish air traffic controllers had warned the country’s air space would be shut while officials tried to pinpoint the rocket and monitor if it would break up over the country and potentially rain junk on the ground below.
“It will take some time for normality to return following the delays. For security reasons it must be done progressively, ” authorities tweeted.
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.”
Meanwhile, 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.”
The airspace was later reopened but knock-on effects of the alert will be felt for the rest of the day.
Delays at Barcelona airport are expected to last all day Friday while flights between Balearics and the UK are believed to be the worst affected.
Holidaymakers in Canary Islands, Santa Maria and Lisbon, Madrid and Barcelona, Lisbon, Madrid and Barcelona face having their flights cancelled or diverted as a result.
The airport in Marseille, France, was also put on high alert.
China launched the third and final piece of its new Tiangong space station on Monday – and warnings had been sounded about the rocket’s 21-ton body coming back down on Earth with Spain identified as one of the countries in its path.
The module, which is as tall as a 10-storey building, was detached from the ‘Long March-5B Y4’ and is part of China’s ambitious space plan to create its own International Space Station.
Debris from the rocket was expected to break the atmosphere on Saturday, according to aerospace experts who are scrambling to determine its path back home.
But that prediction has been moved forward to as early as Friday afternoon.
It prompted pleas for further information from Chinese authorities.
Gregory Henning, Project Leader at The Aerospace Corporation’s Centre for Orbital Debris and Reentry Studies (CORDS) suggested that there is still too much uncertainty in the data and models to make a prediction.
“As the rocket body’s altitude decreases and the re-entry approaches, the window will shrink, and will begin to reveal locations that will not be the landing site,” Henning told the Daily Mail.
“But the exact location will not be known until it actually enters.”
6Long March-5B Y4 rocket carrying China’s lab module Mengtian as it launched on MondayCredit: Getty6Spain scrambled its air force to track the rocket (stock image)Credit: GettyIt’s not clear how many flights are affected or will be affected by ongoing delays as the situation gets back to normal.
A spokeswoman for Spanish airports authority AENA covering the Balearic Islands said just before midday it was not yet able to offer information on how many incoming or outgoing flights had or would be affected.
Spanish authorities shut down airspace above its airports as the space junk orbited overhead as it was feared any debris that ripped off may plummet down to the ground – or damage flying aircraft.
After lifting the restrictions, the country’s air traffic manager ENAIRE explained: “With the non-controlled entry of parts of the object in the Earth’s orbit crossing our territory, ENAIRE in accordance with the recommendation of the European Air Safety Agency and instructions from the inter-ministerial cell led by the Department of National Security, established a 100-kilometre air traffic exclusion on both sides of the orbit of the space object.
“The non-controlled entry into the atmosphere of the large Chinese rocket was monitored at all times.”
The latest rocket malfunction mirrors a crash in July after space debris from a previous Chinese launch plummeted in the Indian Ocean near Malaysia.
At the time experts failed to disclose its exact location following fears that it could have hit a populated town or village.
But while major cities again appear to be safe from the falling debris on this occasion, Henning suggested that “88 per cent of the world’s population does live within those at-risk latitude bounds” of the booster’s expected landing area.
However, the odds of an individual being affected are said to be about six in 10 trillion.
This is the third time in two years that the Chinese space authorities have generated panic as a result of their rocket launches, which NASA has described as irresponsible.
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.
It is expected to fall into the Indian Ocean in the form of space junk without risk to the population.
The rocket measured 17.8 meters, had a diameter of 4.2 meters and weighed about 23.3 tons at the time of liftoff.
6Delays at Barcelona airport are expected to last all day FridayCredit: Alamy
Story Credit: thesun.co.uk