China’s out-of-control space station will burn up sometime late next year

In the month of July, it was speculated that China has reportedly lost contact with Tiangong-1 space station, its first ever foray into space, launched in 2011 and is on a trajectory back to Earth.

However, in a press conference held last Wednesday, Chinese officials appear to have confirmed that China is no longer in control of its space station and is expected to die a fiery death in Earth’s atmosphere towards the second half of next year. However, it’s unlikely anyone on the Earth will be injured.

China’s Tiangong-1 space station, which has been orbiting the planet for about 5 years was recently decommissioned and the Chinese astronauts returned to the surface.

“Based on our calculation and analysis, most parts of the space lab will burn up during falling,” according to China’s state-run Xinhua news agency. It appears that China is no longer in control of the space station, since control would require guided re-entry over an empty stretch of ocean at a specified time, all things which China acknowledges are no longer possible. The station stopped sending data back to Earth in March.

Usually, a decommissioned satellite or space station would be retired by forcing it to burn up in the atmosphere. This type of burn is controlled, and most satellite re-entries are scheduled to burn up over the ocean to avoid putting lives of people in danger.

Currently, the 9.4-ton (8.5 metric tons) Tiangong-1 spacecraft is intact and orbiting Earth at an altitude of 230 miles (370 kilometers), according to Wu Ping, deputy director of China’s Manned Space Engineering office.

It seems that China’s space agency is not sure exactly when Tiangong-1 will re-enter the atmosphere except for that it will burn up at some point in late 2017. This means that there is chance debris from the falling spacecraft could strike a populated area.

However, it’s unlikely that anyone on the Earth will be injured due to the burning of the space station, as most of the parts will burn up in the atmosphere. The few that would make it to the ground probably won’t land in any populated areas.

China is monitoring Tiangong-1 (whose name means “Heavenly Palace” in Mandarin) closely and will send out appropriate warnings if the space lab threatens to hit a satellite, Wu added. According to Xinhua, China will release a forecast of Tiangong-1’s fall to Earth “if necessary,” Wu said.

Source: Xinhua News

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