Tiangong-1 crash: everything you need to know

Most of Chinas broken eight-tonne space station will burn up, though there is a chance some parts will survive. Should you worry about getting hit?

China’s prototype space station, Tiangong-1 or” heavenly place”, is falling to Earth and could re-enter the atmosphere as soon as this week.

While most of the eight-tonne spacecraft ought to be able to burn up as it plummets through the ambiance, there is a chance some of it will survive all the route down to the surface.

Should I be worried ?

No. The chances of being hit by part of the space station are basically zero.

About 70% of the Earth is covered with water and the majority of members of the rest of it is sparsely populated. If any of the space station does reach the surface, it is incredibly unlikely it will make any person, let alone you. In 1997 a woman was struck on the shoulder by an object, believed to be part of a Delta rocket. But she was not injured. She is thought to be the only person ever struck by spaceship debris.

In terms of sizing, Tiangong-1 is merely the 50 th largest spacecraft to come down, and there have been no recorded deaths or traumata from people being struck by debris from any of them. The largest uncontrolled entry was SkyLab, the 77 -tonne US space station, which disintegrated over Western Australia. It didn’t injure anyone but most areas of it were later collected.

China has not released all the details about the design of Tiangong-1, so it is not possible to say how much of it will survive re-entry. In 2011 Nasa calculated the chance of a smaller 6.5 -tonne object striking someone was about one in 3,200. That means the chance it would reach any particular person – you, for example,- is about one in 21 trillion. It is hard to imagine a more unlikely route to die.

Where is it most likely to accident ?

It is orbiting at about 27,000 km/ h, so a accident site is virtually impossible to predict. If you get the entry time off by an hour, you’ve got the location off by at least 27,000 km.

The satellite can only re-enter within the latitudes of its orbit- 43 deg North and 43 deg South. That rules out a descent over the UK but it does cover much of the Earth, including vast stretchings of North and South America, China, the Countries of the middle east, Africa, Australia, parts of Europe- and great swaths of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

Because of its own specific orbit, it is more likely to impact at the leading edge of that area- near the southern or northern latitudes.

Tiangong-1′ s possible re-entry area. Photo: European Space Agency

When is it going to crash?

The current best prediction is 1 April( no, this is not an April Fool’s joke ).

Graph of Tiangong-1′ s predicted orbital decay and re-entry. Photograph: European Space Agency

But again, because of its speed, it could be at least a day either side of that.

Who is responsible for any damage ?

According to Steven Freeland, dean of law at Western Sydney University, the 1972 Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects states that the launching nation is liable to pay for any damage caused. In this case, that entails China.

That convention has only been invoked once before, when the Soviet Union’s Cosmos 954 crashed in 1978. That was a nuclear-powered spacecraft and it rained nuclear waste over Canada. Canada billed the USSR C$ 6m and it eventually paid C$ 3m.

What did Tiangong-1 do when it still worked?

Tiangong-1 was China’s first space station, and was described as a ” potent political emblem “~ ATAGEND of China’s growing power when it was launched in 2011 as part of an ambitious scientific move to become a space superpower.

It was launched unmanned but was designed to be habitable, to test docking with other craft, and to be used for conducting experimentations. It was visited by astronauts, including China’s first female cosmonaut, Liu Yang, in 2012.” After carrying out her assigned medical experimentations she performed a Tai Chi routine specially designed for space exercise ,” told Alice Gorman, a space archaeologist from Flinders University in Australia.

” The second expedition to the station in 2013 included Wang Yaping, the second Chinese woman to go to space. Her mission coincided with the 50 th anniversary of the first woman in space, the USSR cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova in 1963.”

Make sure to visit: CapGeneration.com


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