Well, it turns out it’s somewhat higher than the risk of an asteroid slamming into Earth.
A new study published in Nature Astronomy analysed 30 years of data to reveal that there is a roughly one in 10 chance that at least one person will be killed by falling rocket debris in the next decade.
And, what’s more, people in the southern hemisphere are most at risk.
For comparison, the odds of an asteroid striking Earth with fatal impact in any year is one in the hundreds of thousands.
Although rocket launches vary, boosters and other sizeable parts from rockets fall back to Earth or are abandoned in orbit.
In most cases, the abandoned rocket bodies re-enter the atmosphere in an uncontrolled fashion and debris may land anywhere along the flight path.
Using the past 30 years of satellite data, Michael Byers and colleagues projected the “casualty expectation” – or risk to human life – over the next decade as a result of uncontrolled rocket re-entries.
The team focused on pieces of rockets that remain partially intact and pose a casualty risk on land, at sea or to aeroplanes.
They revealed that current practices have, on average, a 10 per cent chance of one or more casualties over the next decade if each re-entry spreads lethal debris over an area of 10 square metres.
And rocket bodies are about three times more likely to land at the latitudes of Jakarta, Dhaka and Lagos than those of New York, Beijing or Moscow.
The authors further explained that we already have the technology for guided re-entry systems.
What we lack, they state, is the collective will to employ these because of the associated costs.
They concluded that without multilateral agreements for mandated controlled rocket re-entries, space-faring nations will continue to export these risks unnecessarily.