Published: Tue, March 27, 2018
Research | By Sheri Schwartz

China's Space Station is Falling to Earth

China's Space Station is Falling to Earth

The European Space Agency (ESA) predicted the re-entry period for the Tiangong-1 craft would be from Friday, March 30 to Monday, April 2.

In what could be a rerun of panic that the crash of Skylab had spread in the late 1970s, China's prototype space station Tiangong-1 is reportedly hurtling towards earth and could enter the atmosphere this week.

Large satellites and space stations do occasionally fall back to Earth after operating in space, posing a space debris threat.

The lab ceased functioning in 2016 and is now making an uncontrolled descent, which makes it hard to predict exactly where it will fall.

A plot of Tiangong-1's orbit shows that some areas of the world are more likely to see it re-enter Earth's atmosphere. It was launched seven years ago to assert China's ambition to become a space superpower and throw challenge to the West and Russian Federation.

"You've got a greater probability of getting hit by a vehicle crossing a Sydney road today than you're going to get hit by the Chinese space station".

In its United Nations submission anticipating the craft's fall to Earth, China said the probability "of endangering and causing damage to aviation and ground activities is very low".

The ASI is one of 13 global space agencies monitoring the satellite as it approaches earth for an uncontrolled crash landing.

According to Aerospace, "the probability that a specific person (i.e., you) will be struck by Tiangong-1 debris is about one million times smaller than the odds of winning the Powerball jackpot".

Reduced to a 10 metre long, 8 metric ton piece of space debris, Tiangong-1's orbit has slowly but steadily decayed since, from a distance of over 380 km, down to now less than 300 km as of October 2017, to just over 200 km above Earth's surface, today.

It is not now confirmed whether notoriously secretive China has been able to maintain or re-establish links with Tiangong-1, which would let them fire engines at the last minute to avoid land collisions.

But not knowing the components of Tiangong-1 makes estimating the danger more challenging, Swinburne University astronomer Alan Duffy said.

But it was able to host astronauts for a few days at a time.

The agency warned against touching debris as it may contain a highly toxic and corrosive substance called hydrazine that could survive reentry.

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