China’s Space Station Is Falling Back to Earth and They Don’t Know Where It Will Land
Science| | By Lauren Boudreau
Look out above! China’s Tiangong-1 or “Heavenly Palace” space station will come crashing back to Earth sometime in 2017, according to The Guardian. The 8.5 ton space craft was launched in 2011 with the mission of putting China ahead in space exploration. However, at a satellite launch center in the Gobi Desert, officials said that the craft had “fulfilled” its mission and is set to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere in late 2017. And by re-enter, they mean fall into.
According to The Guardian, Wu Ping, China’s deputy director of manned space engineering, said, “Based on our calculation and analysis, most parts of the space lab will burn up during falling.”
For many, this news confirms the long-speculated idea that China was losing control over its space station. Harvard astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell told The Guardian that the announcement most likely confirms that the station will fall back to Earth naturally, but the scary thing is, they cannot predict where.
“You really can’t steer these things,” he said. “Even a couple of days before it re-enters we probably won’t know better than six or seven hours, plus or minus, when it’s going to come down. Not knowing when it’s going to come down translates as not knowing where its going to come down.”
While they did confirm that most of the station will burn up in the atmosphere, certain parts, like the rocket engines, are too dense to burn up.
“Yes there’s a chance it will do damage, it might take out someone’s car,” McDowell said. “There will be a rain of a few pieces of metal, it might go through someone’s roof, like if a flap fell off a plane, but it is not widespread damage.”
China will continue to monitor the station’s whereabouts and potential landing site. Until then, all you can do is hope it stays far away from your home.