Chinese Space Station Expected To Crash To Earth In 2017
Chinese space authorities have lost control of the 8.5-tonne Tiangong-1, China’s first space station, and it’s expected to fall into the Earth’s atmosphere in the latter half of 2017 with “most parts” burning up during the fall.
Speaking at a satellite launch center in the Gobi Desert last week, Chinese officials said that Tiangong-1 had “comprehensively fulfilled its historical mission” and would be allowed to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere.
“Based on our calculation and analysis, most parts of the space lab will burn up during falling,” Wu Ping, deputy director of the Manned Space Engineering Office, said.
Wu’s announcement seemed to confirm months of speculation that China had lost control of Tiangong-1. Speculations started when Thomas Dorman, an amateur satellite tracker who had been observing the station, told Space.com that he thinks “China will wait until the last minute to let the world know it has a problem with their space station.”
Dr. Jonathan McDowell, the renowned astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, says that it will be impossible to predict where the debris will land.
“You really can’t steer these things,” McDowell said. “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.”
China launched Tiangong-1, or “Heavenly Palace 1,” in 2011. Officials labeled it an initial step in developing a long-term space station by the early 2020s. They intended Tiangong-1 to last two years.
China says it will continue to monitor Tiangong-1, “strengthen early warning for possible collision with objects” and, if necessary, release internationally a forecast of where it will be falling.