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Space & Astronomy

China's space station is falling back to Earth

By T.K. Randall
October 14, 2017 · Comment icon 34 comments



An artist's impression of Tiangong 1 in orbit. Image Credit: CMSE
The Chinese space agency's Tiangong 1 space laboratory will hit the ground within the next few months.
Launched back in 2011, Tiangong 1 - or 'Heavenly Place' - was part of China's efforts to assert itself as a major player in the space industry and to create a manned orbital laboratory for scientific research.

Last year however, following months of speculation over peculiarities observed in Tiangong 1's orbit, China's CNSA space agency revealed that it had lost control of the station and that it would be plummetting back to Earth, sparking fears over the risk of falling debris.
Most recently, it has emerged that the station's descent has accelerated and that there is a high chance that it will crash-land either before the end of this year or at the beginning of the next.

While it is next to impossible to predict exactly where it will come down, the chances of it striking a populated area are extremely remote and it is a lot more likely to fall in to the ocean.

Most of the debris will have also burnt up in the atmosphere long before it reaches the ground.

Source: Independent | Comments (34)


Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #25 Posted by Buzz_Light_Year 5 years ago
I wonder if they could snag it with the X-37 and give it a controlled re-entry?
Comment icon #26 Posted by Mr Supertypo 5 years ago
thats the same thing they say about every space craft deorbiting. please.
Comment icon #27 Posted by Ozymandias 5 years ago
Why are people concerndd about this? Don't you know that paper never refused ink and not to believe what you read in these kind of newspapers. Very little of any previous space station that fell to earth actually survived re-entry to hit the ground. They all burned up. The Chinese station is about one tenth the size and mass of these others. The chances of any if it impacting earth is small, and the chances of any such fragments that might strike the earth doing damage or injury to people or property is statistically even smaller.
Comment icon #28 Posted by Jon the frog 5 years ago
Time to test anti ballistic missile ! Would be a good test against asteroid to !
Comment icon #29 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 5 years ago
Not totally true. All Russian/Soviet space stations were deliberately re-enteed over the ocean so that fragments couldn't hit land. When the US space station, Skylab, made an uncontrolled reentry in 1979 many fragments, including a large oxygen tank, several nitrogen tanks and a food freezer made it to the ground. Again not true. There are items on board similar to those that survived the Skylab reentry. It is not just the size that is important but the material the components are made from. Finally we are getting somewhere. It is true that it is highly unlikely that any damage or injury will ... [More]
Comment icon #30 Posted by UFOwatcher 5 years ago
China owes me a new house, car and swimming pool. Oh and my personal telescope observatory that is partially assembled...And† a big screen tv. And Doctor bills/funeral expenses.... Ok... nothing for the ex wife
Comment icon #31 Posted by Peter B 5 years ago
At the moment its altitude is too high to make any predictions about where it will come down; all we can say now is that it will come down somewhere between 43 degrees north of the equator and 43 degrees south of the equator, because it has an orbital inclination of 43 degrees. That means it could land anywhere in Australia or Africa, or most of South America, southern Asia, the southern extremity of Europe, the USA or Central America. Or one of the oceans at those latitudes. We'll only be able to shrink the landing ellipse when it's on its last few dozen orbits - perhaps a week or less before... [More]
Comment icon #32 Posted by Peter B 5 years ago
How? There's nothing on the X-37 which could be used to dock with the space station. I doubt it has the software to allow it to undertake a docking maneuver. Also, if the space station is out of control then it may be tumbling as it orbits. Depending on the speed of the tumble that would make it even harder for anything or anyone to dock with it.
Comment icon #33 Posted by Buzz_Light_Year 5 years ago
I didn't say anything about docking with it. X-37 has a deployment arm which could be used to snag the station and alter its trajectory a few degrees to ensure a safer descent path. It has been my contention for awhile that the X-37 secondary mission is to bring space junk into a decaying orbit. It seems that since the X-37 has been deployed there have been more and more objects re-entering the atmosphere. But then that is just my opinion.
Comment icon #34 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 5 years ago
And how is it supposed to use a deployment arm to grab a tumbling, out of control space station which is considerably larger and more massive than it is? The short answer is, "it can't". But that is irrelevant anyway. It's in the wrong orbit. Even though it is one of the most manoeuvrable satellites it simply doesn't have enough fuel on board to rendezvous with Tiangong 1. I suppose the other X-37 could be launched into the correct orbit at considerable cost to the US Air Force but it would still be impossible to grab the Tiangong. Besides why should the US Air Force risk a secret and highly e... [More]


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