China’s space agency has informed the United Nations that it expects its 8.5-ton Tiangong-1 space station to crash into the earth in the next couple of months.
The Guardian reports that the space station is expected to return to Earth in fiery fashion between this month and April 2018. Back in fall 2016, Chinese officials confirmed that the space station would crash into Earth in either late 2017 or early 2018. The publication reports that in recent months its orbit has been decaying and that it is dipping into our planet’s atmosphere deeper and deeper.
A spokesperson for the government, said at the time, that “most parts of the space lab will burn up during falling.”
“Now that (its) perigee is below 300km and it is in denser atmosphere, the rate of decay is getting much higher,” Jonathan McDowell, a Harvard University astrophysicist, told The Guardian. “I expect it will come down a few months from now — (in) late 2017 or early 2018.”
A majority of the spacecraft is expected to burn up upon reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, but some chucks weighing as much as 220 pounds could hit the surface. Predicting where any debris could hit is next to impossible, even this close to impact, McDowell said.
Tiangong-1, or the “Heavenly Palace,” was originally launched in September 2011 and was a major step for the space agency in its quest to build a space station by 2020. NASA explains that the space station largely served as a demonstration of the “vital docking technology required for a future space station.”
One important takeaway The Guardian notes is the fact that several space crafts or stations have come crashing through the atmosphere to Earth without killing or injuring anyone in its path. TIME notes that Tiangong-1 is small by space station terms, and that NASA made its own uncontrolled entry to Earth in 1979 with the 77-ton NASA SkyLab.
“You really can’t steer these things,” McDowell told The Guardian in 2016. “Even a couple of days before it re-enters we probably won’t know better than six or seven hours, plus or minus, when it’s going to come down.
“Not knowing when it’s going to come down translates as not knowing where it’s going to come down.”
— Rami Mandow (@CosmicRami) October 14, 2017
China’s 8.5-ton space station will crash into Earth between October and April 2018 – MLive.com