Remember that Chinese space station that’s hurtling toward Earth like an out of control fireball? Well, it’s expected to crash land in the next little bit. So head’s up for that!
Launched in 2011, the 8.5-tonne Tiangong-1 was China’s first space laboratory and prototype space station, designed to test the capabilities of orbital rendezvous and docking. Over the original planned operational time of two years, the Tiangong-1 underwent three dockings, hosted two manned missions and experienced one orbital maintenance mission.
Following that, the space-lab was put into sleep mode, where it has remained in orbit for the last four years or so.
But now, the Tiangong-1 is heading back to Earth and, last year, China’s space agency admitted that it had no control over where or when the craft would crash land. Earlier this year, the agency notified the United Nations that it expects the Tiangong-1 to come down between October 2017 and April 2018 and experts have noticed that the space station’s orbit is decaying as it falls faster and faster back towards the planet.
At a press conference last year, Wu Ping, the deputy director of China’s manned space engineering office reassured everyone that this all was really nothing much to worry about.
“Based on our calculation and analysis, most parts of the space lab will burn up during falling,” Wu said.
However, Jonathan McDowell, a renowned astrophysicist from Harvard University, told the Guardian that he expects some parts of Tiangong-1, weighing up to 100kg, to crash into the Earth’s surface. McDowell added that predicting when or especially where this will happen is impossible.
Of course, it is almost certain that the Tiangong-1’s fiery crash-landing won’t hurt anyone. This will be far from the first uncontrolled re-entry that our planet has seen. Nearly 40 years ago, US space station Skylab re-entered Earth’s atmosphere and dumped some debris around 500km outside of Perth, Australia.
But it still gives you something to think about…
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