Countdown Begins for Chinese Space Station to Plummet to Earth

Clay Curtis
March 9, 2018

China's first unmanned space module, blasted off on September 29, 2011.

China's first space station is expected to come crashing down to Earth within weeks, but experts remain unable to predict exactly where the 8.5-tonne module will hit.

The European Space Agency says the module will descend between the 24th of March and 19th of April. "It's been monitored by amateur satellite trackers, this community of people that study what's in space, and its behaviour is totally consistent with something that's not being powered". In 2016, China admitted that the agency has lost control over the module which is now hurtling down to the Earth and that, it won't be able to do a controlled re-entry.

Tiangong-1 potential re-entry area. The Aerospace Corporation in a statement informed that there is a chance that some parts of the space station will survive the re-entry and will hit Earth.

Some of the material on board the space station is indeed toxic, including chemicals used in rocket fuel, and China has noted that if that material finds its way to the ground it could be hazardous to anyone who stumbles upon it.

The highest-probability zones are also as they were in January: northern USA states, a chunk of southern Europe into western Asia, China, and the two Koreas (great), or south of the equator, Argentina, Chile, Tasmania in Australia, or New Zealand.

That being said, the odds of any debris actually landing near you or, even worse, striking you is incredibly small.

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'I would guess that a few pieces will survive re-entry.

Because most of Earth's surface is covered by water-including the regions most likely to be hit by falling debris-and because vast swaths of land are uninhabited or barely inhabited, the likelihood of a person being hit by falling space debris of any kind is tiny, Wired reports.

"Every couple of years something like this happens, but Tiangong-1 is big and dense so we need to keep an eye on it", he told The Guardian. It is now falling by about 6 km a week as compared to 1.5 km last October. The constantly changing "weather" in space makes it hard to predict when the space station would crash-land on Earth. At no time will a precise time or location prediction for re-entry be possible.

The space station, whose name means "Heavenly Palace", will be subjected to the full brunt of friction from Earth's atmosphere and, thankfully, will be incinerated nearly completely before any remaining debris finally lands on the surface.

Tiangong-1 was also visited by China's first female astronaut Liu Yang in 2012. It helped to carry out many manned and unmanned missions. In 1991, the 20-tonne Salyut 7 space station of Soviet Union bragged into the Earth docked to Cosmos 1686.

Larger space stations have crashed into our planet previously without anyone being injured by the debris.

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