Chinese Space Station Tiangong-1 To Reenter Earth’s Atmosphere, Could Rain Fire Over Europe

| November 10 , 2017 , 15:49 IST

The 8.5-tonne Chinese space station Tiangong-1 that had been in a decaying orbit since March 2016 is expected to re-enter the atmosphere early next year. The Tiangong-1 or “Heavenly Palace” lab was launched in 2011 and described as the potent political symbol of China.

The space station was used for both manned and unmanned missions and visited by China’s first female astronaut, Liu Yang, in 2012. In 2016 Chinese Officials had confirmed that they had lost control of the space station and it would crash to Earth in 2017 or 2018. China’s space agency has since notified the UN that it expects Tiangong-1 to come down between October 2017 and April 2018. Since then the station’s orbit has been steadily decaying. In recent weeks it has dipped into more dense reaches of Earth’s atmosphere and started falling faster.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has already narrowed down the possible crash sites for the Chinese ‘Tiangong-1’ space station, including several European nations. The ESA will lead an international campaign of 13 space agencies of the world to track the Chinese space station that has begun its terminal descent towards Earth.

The majority of the spacecraft is expected to burn up on reentry to Earth's atmosphere, according to its press release.

The Tiangong-1 spacecraft is 12 m long with a diameter of 3.3 m and had a launch mass of 8506 kg. It has been unoccupied since 2013 and there has been no contact with it since 2016. The craft is now at about 300 km altitude in an orbit that will inevitably decay sometime between January and March 2018, when it will make an uncontrolled reentry.

“Owing to the geometry of the station’s orbit, we can already exclude the possibility that any fragments will fall over any spot further north than 43ºN or further south than 43ºS,” says Holger Krag, Head of ESA’s Space Debris Office.

“This means that reentry may take place over any spot on Earth between these latitudes, which includes several European countries, for example.” “The date, time and geographic footprint of the reentry can only be predicted with large uncertainties. Even shortly before reentry, only a very large time and geographical window can be estimated.” Owing to the station’s mass and construction materials, there is a possibility that some portions of it will survive and reach the surface.