Published: Sat, March 10, 2018
Health | By Jay Jacobs

Heads Up: China's Tiangong-1 Space Station Is Crashing to Earth

Heads Up: China's Tiangong-1 Space Station Is Crashing to Earth

The European Space Agency says the module will come down between 24 March and 19 April.

For now, ground stations are able to track Tiangong-1 as it speeds along at 16,000 miles an hour some 180 miles above Earth. The space station will fall somewhere between 43 degrees North and South, but because of the angle of the Tiangong-1, it's more likely to fall near the maximum or minimum than on the equator.

In recent months, the spacecraft has been speeding up and it is now falling by around 6km (3.7 miles) a week.

It said: "If this should happen, any surviving debris would fall within a region that is a few hundred kilometres in size".

An Aerospace analysis found that "the risk that an individual will be hit and injured by a piece of debris is estimated to be less than one in a one trillion".

However, Aerospace insisted the chance of debris hitting anyone living in these nations was tiny.

China lost contact with its Tiangong-1, or Heavenly Palace-1, space station in 2016, and the 8.5-tonne outpost has been drifting aimlessly since.

"To make any sensible statement about what will survive, we'd need to know what's inside", said Stijn Lemmens, a space debris analyst at the ESA's Darmstadt centre told the Guardian.

NASA's 77-ton Skylab space station came hurtling to Earth in an nearly completely uncontrolled descent in 1979, with some large pieces landing outside Perth in Western Australia.

While most of it will burn up during re-entry, around 10 to 40 per cent of the satellite is expected to survive as debris, and some parts may contain unsafe hydrazine.

Things go wrong in space and we must accept that.

Experts from Aerospace's Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies (Cords) have been studying the space station and in November updated their predictions for its uncontrolled re-entry. All craft in low Earth orbit, whether they be satellites or the International Space Station, are subject to drag from the Earth's atmosphere.

The eight-tonne Tiangong-1 space station is now at an altitude of 150 miles, and can not be steered towards the ocean as is normal with large spacecraft re-entering the atmosphere.

'This means that re-entry may take place over any spot on Earth between these latitudes, which includes several European countries, for example.

"The date, time and geographic footprint of the re-entry can only be predicted with large uncertainties".

But owing to the station's mass and construction materials, there is a possibility that some portions of it will survive and reach the surface.

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