Wednesday Mar 28, 2018
China’s space station, Tiangong-1 or “heavenly palace”, is hurtling towards Earth, expected to re-enter the atmosphere and crash over the weekend; but no one is quite sure exactly when and where it will crash.
The Tiangong-1 was part of China's space programme, a prototype for a manned station in 2022.
According to reports it was supposed to have a “controlled re-entry” back into the Earth’s atmosphere. However, in March 2016, Chinese scientists lost all communication with the ship, failing to fire up its thrusters. The space station which weighs eight tonnes has been orbiting the earth in a spiral. On Tuesday it was at an altitude of 130 miles and falling faster than ever before.
Since the station can longer be controlled, no one knows when the space station will crash. However, an estimate could see it re-entering between March 30 and April 2. Most of the station is likely to be burned up in the atmosphere but some debris could make their way towards Earth and hit its surface.
The space station was originally planned to be decommissioned back in 2013 however, China had repeatedly extended the length of its mission. Currently, it is tumbling over about once every three minutes as it orbits the Earth 16 times a day.
According to the European Space Agency (ESA) the re-entry "will take place anywhere between 43ºN and 43ºS", which covers a vast stretch north and south of the equator.
According to the deputy director of the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research, Dr. Elias Aboutanios, the station’s rate of descent will continually get faster as the atmosphere that the station is ploughing through gets thicker".
“The station will eventually start to heat up as it gets close to 100km [from Earth]," he says.
This will lead to most of the station burning up and "it is difficult to know exactly what will survive since the makeup of the station has not been disclosed by China".
He also said that if it does burn up during night time over a populated area, it "will most certainly be visible, like a meteor or a shooting star".
Meanwhile, the Italian Space Agency (ASI) claims the space station will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere a little after noon on April 1 adding that it is likely fragments from Tiangong-1 will hit Italy.