BEIJING – An out-of-control Chinese space station is expected to hit Earth in the next 12 hours. However, experts tracking the decaying orbiter admit they still have no idea exactly where the debris will land.
Launched in 2011, the Tiangong-1 was China’s first space station. Ostensibly a pilot mission for the Tiangong-2 space laboratory, the first of China’s orbiters hosted two manned missions in 2012 and 2013. It has been slowly losing altitude since malfunctioning in 2016.
In November, experts from the European Space Agency (ESA) listed Spain, Portugal, Italy, Bulgaria and Greece among possible crash sites should any pieces of the craft fail to burn up in the atmosphere.
But an update by the agency on April 1 committed to a much wider crash zone between 43ºN and 43ºS. The area includes the continents of Africa and Australia, as well as most of South America and the entire Indian subcontinent.
“With the latest available orbital data and space weather forecasts, the re-entry prediction window stabilized and shrunk further to a time running from the night of April 1 to the early morning of April 2 [UTC],” an ESA statement read.
The deorbit of #Tiangong1 is expected to look something like this. First, the solar panels will rip off, then the body will break apart. Most will burn up in the atmosphere but some debris could make it to the ground. We'll know better about when and where tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/bgy0nJV6TE
— Tony Rice (@rtphokie) March 31, 2018
The Chinese Manned Space Engineering Office says it’s confident the uncontrolled re-entry will not cause any damage. The authority expects the eight-ton lab to disintegrate at an altitude of 80km.
An online tracking hub set up by the Aerospace Corporation suggests the Tiangong-1 is currently orbiting above the South Atlantic Ocean. Parts of the space station will enter Earth’s atmosphere within 12 hours, according to US Air Force authority.