Chinese space station will plummet to Earth in March

Given that Earth is mostly covered in water, the odds are the space station will fall into an ocean.
By Delila James | Jan 10, 2018
China's first space station, Tiangong-1, will fall to Earth sometime in mid-March but nobody knows exactly where it will land or in how many pieces.

The China National Space Administration launched the nearly 19,000-pound (8,500-kilogram) Tiangong-1 in September, 2011, according to the Aerospace Corporation in California. After two manned missions, the Chinese government announced in March 2016 they could no longer communicate with the space station, adding it would eventually fall back to Earth as its orbit began to decay.

"The date, time and geographic footprint of the re-entry can only be predicted with large uncertainties," said Holger Krag, head of the European Space Agency's Space Debris Office, in November, as reported by CBC News. "Even shortly before re-entry, only a very large time and geographical window can be estimated."

Given that Earth is mostly covered in water, the odds are the space station will fall into an ocean. Still, there is a chance that some debris will survive reentry and crash onto Earth's surface.

"There is a chance that a small amount of Tiangong-1 debris may survive reentry and impact the ground," wrote Aerospace Corp. "Should this happen, any surviving debris would fall within a region that is a few hundred kilometers in size and centered along a point on the Earth that the station passes over."

Other objects more massive than Tiangong-1 have broken apart on reentry to Earth's upper atmosphere.

In 1979, the 165,000-pound SkyLab NASA's first space station fell to Earth in an uncontrolled orbit and crashed in rural Australia with no reported casualties. Then, in 2001, Russia's 265,000-pound Mir space station plummeted safely into the Pacific Ocean during a planned reentry.


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