China's space lab could crash to Earth on Saturday, scientists say

Posted March 27, 2018

The spacecraft was launched by China's National Space Administration (CNSA) in 2011 and it was created to remain in space for two years. China last raised Tiangong-1's altitude in December 2015 and reported losing telemetry with the 9-ton station in 2016.

The Tiangong-1 station was launched in 2011 and hailed a "heavenly place" by the Chinese government, eager to join the space superpowers.

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. So a controlled re-entry was no longer possible.

A Chinese spacecraft preparing to link with the Tiangong-1 satellite back when it was still functioning, in June 2012. It hosted three space crews whose members performed science experiments, including one group of astronauts who remained on the station for a then-record 84 days.

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The European Space Agency is providing re-entry updates every day or two on its blog, including on the lab's potential landing zone, its altitude changes, and the re-entry window, which the agency now puts between March 30 and April 2.

Tiangong-1, launched in 2011, was never meant to last very long. That said, much of Earth is uninhabited - making it likely that Tiangong-1 will fall in the ocean, or, like Skylab, into a remote area. -How will it crash?- Deputy director of the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research, Dr Elias Aboutanios told BBC, the station's rate of descent "will continually get faster as the atmosphere that the station is ploughing through gets thicker".

While space junk falls back to Earth every day, this bus-sized unit has garnered more interest for a few reasons.

Experts say the chances are very unlikely that one or two individuals could be hit by debris from the space.

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For over a year, scientists have been trying to figure out when Chinese space lab Tiangong-1 is going to plummet back to its home planet.

Tiangong-1 is now spinning around the atmosphere at a speed of about 28,160kmh, taking one trip around the planet every 90 minutes.

While the majority of the eight-tonne spacecraft is likely to burn up while dashing through the atmosphere, some parts of it are expected to hit the ground and this has raised concern just like Skylab had done nearly four decades ago.

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