Are we in danger of being hit by debris from the Tiangong-1 as it plummets to Earth?
By: World Israel News Staff
China’s first space station, Tiangong-1 (“Heavenly Palace”), will come crashing back down to Earth between March 30 and April 2 in an uncontrolled re-entry, according to the latest forecast by the European Space Agency.
Tiangong-1was launched in September 2011. It settled into an orbit about 217 miles (350 kilometers) above Earth — a little lower than the International Space Station, whose average altitude is 250 miles (400 km).
China has recently put the space station into “sleep mode” ahead of it de-orbitization and its replacement with a new model. Chinese officials initially said they planned to de-orbit Tiangong-1 in a controlled fashion, using the craft’s thrusters to guide it into Earth’s atmosphere. However, in March 2016 China announced that Tiangong-1 had stopped sending data back to earth. The spacecraft’s functions “have been disabled,” China’s Xinhua news service reported.
The space lab will fall back to Earth on its own, pulled down by the atmospheric drag.
Based on Tiangong-1’s orbital details, that will happen somewhere between 43 degrees north latitude and 43 degrees south — a huge swath of the globe that stretches from the South Dakota-Nebraska border all the way down to Tasmania, space.com wrote.
Most of Tiangong-1 will break apart and burn up in Earth’s atmosphere, but some of the space lab’s sturdier pieces will probably survive re-entry, experts said.
However, these flaming chuncks of space-junk will probably splash down in the ocean, which covers about 70 percent of the planet’s surface.
One in a trillion chance
One need not worry about death from above – the chances that a piece of Tiangong-1 will hit you are less than one in a trillion, according to an FAQ published by The Aerospace Corporation.
The 9.4-ton (8.5 metric tons) Tiangong-1 is about 34 feet long by 11 feet wide (10.4 by 3.4 meters) and features 530 cubic feet (15 cubic m) of habitable internal volume.
Tiangong-1 won’t be the biggest spacecraft ever to fall uncontrolled from the sky. In July 1979, for example, NASA’s 85-ton Skylab space station burned up over the Indian Ocean and Western Australia. Some big chunks survived the fall, and the Australian town of Esperance famously sued NASA $400 for littering, which a park service official in Western Australia did issue, and which NASA has yet to pay.
In February 1991, the Soviet Union’s 22-ton Salyut 7 orbital outpost came plummeting down while it was connected to another 22-ton spacecraft called Cosmos 1686. Nobody was aboard Skylab or the Salyut-Cosmos 1686 complex when they hit Earth’s atmosphere.