“Out of Control” Chinese Space Lab Falling to Earth
Ashley Allen / 4 years ago
Chinese space lab Tiangong-1 is set to fall to Earth next year after the nation’s space authority admitted that it had lost control of the 8.5-tonne orbital station. Tiangong-1, which means “Heavenly Palace”, was China’s first space station, launched back in 2011, and marked the beginning of the country’s new space initiative. The station is projected to hit the Earth’s atmosphere in late-2017 and is expected to burn up on re-entry.
“Based on our calculation and analysis, most parts of the space lab will burn up during falling,” Wu Ping, Deputy Director of China’s manned space engineering office, was quoted as said during a press conference (via official Chinese news agency Xinhua).
Wu Ping added that it will continue to monitor the matter and that, while the risk of damage to the Earth is slim, it will keep nations fully abreast of any developments. “If necessary, China will release a forecast of its falling and report it internationally,” she said.
While the re-entry of the space station into the Earth’s atmosphere shouldn’t pose a massive threat to us, it is virtually impossible to predict exactly where debris, if any, would land, and any such debris could take out a car or, presumably, a person.
“You really can’t steer these things,” Harvard astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell told The Guardian. “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.”
“There will be lumps of about 100kg or so, still enough to give you a nasty wallop if it hit you,” he added. “Yes there’s a chance it will do damage, it might take out someone’s car, there will be a rain of a few pieces of metal, it might go through someone’s roof, like if a flap fell off a plane, but it is not widespread damage.”