Scientists tell Tiangong-1 will burn up on re-entry and poses merely slight danger to anyone on the ground
China’s defunct Tiangong-1 space station hurtled towards Earth on Sunday and was expected to re-enter the ambiance within hours.
Most of the craft should burn up on re-entry, so scientists said it posed only a slight risk to people on the ground.
The European Space Agency forecast that the station, whose name translates as” Heavenly Palace”, would re-enter sometime between Sunday night and early Monday morning GMT.
The Chinese space agency forecast it would re-enter the earth’s atmosphere over a remote part of the South Atlantic between 0011 -0 133 GMT on Monday. The craft was expected to re-enter in an area around 19.4 degrees west, 10.2 degrees south, relevant agencies said on its website, giving it a position south-west of the tiny British South Atlantic island of Ascension.
The US military’s 18 Space Control Squadron was predicting a re-entry over the Atlantic Ocean between South America and Africa.
However, the Harvard astronomer Jonathan McDowell told any predictions would contain a considerable margin of error.
Based on the space station’s orbit, it will come back to Earth somewhere between 43 degrees north and 43 degrees south, a range covering most of the US, China, Africa, southern Europe, Australia and South America. Out of scope are Russia, Canada and northern Europe.
Only about 10% of the bus-sized, 8.5 -tonne spacecraft is likely to survive being burned up on re-entry; mainly its heavier components such as its engines. The chances of any one person being hit by debris are considered less than one in a trillion. The progression of the spacecraft can be tracked here.
Launched in 2011, Tiangong-1 was China’s first space station, serving as an experimental platform for bigger projects, such as the Tiangong-2 launched in September 2016 and a future permanent Chinese space station.
The station played host to two crewed missions and served as a test platform for perfecting docking procedures and other operations. Its last crew departed in 2013 and contact with it was cut in 2016.
Since then it has been orbiting gradually closer and closer to Earth on its own while being monitored. Western space experts say they believe China has lost control of the station. China’s chief space laboratory decorator, Zhu Zongpeng, has denied Tiangong-1 is out of control, but has not provided specifics on what, if anything, China is doing to guide the craft’s re-entry.
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