March 17, 2018

China's Tiangong-1 due for uncontrolled re-entry, soon

08 March 2018, 01:38 | Ross Houston

China’s first astronaut Yang Liwei

China’s first astronaut Yang Liwei

Just as wide is the potential window of where the space station will be potentially crash into Earth, with somewhere in the northern USA states, parts of South America, northern China, the Middle east, central Italy, northern Spain, New Zealand, the south of Africa or Tasmania in Australia all considered viable options at the moment.

The ESA has now released a new window for Tiangong-1's eventual crash landing. It was designed as a prototype craft, a precursor to China's ambition of a permanent, 20-tonne space station still expected to launch around the year 2022. This affects all satellites and spacecraft in low-Earth orbit, like the International Space Station (ISS), for example.

Given the imprecise estimate for the reentry of Tiangong-1, the ESA will constantly update the trajectory and tracking for the route of the space station throughout the month. The Aerospace Corporation in a statement informed that there is a chance that some parts of the space station will survive the re-entry and will hit Earth.

"If this should happen, any surviving debris would fall within a region that is a few hundred kilometres in size", said Aerospace, a research organisation that advises government and private enterprise on space flight.

The Aerospace Corporation has said, "When considering the worst-case location ... the probability that a specific person (ie, you) will be struck by Tiangong-1 debris is about one million times smaller than the odds of winning the Powerball jackpot".

In 2016, China admitted that it had lost control of Tiangong-1 and would be unable to perform a controlled re-entry in the atmosphere.

Scientists also haven't been able to narrow down the crash zone, which is predicted to be between the 43-degree North and 43-degree South latitudes.

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Aerospace warned that the Chinese space station might be carrying a highly toxic and corrosive fuel called hydrazine on board.

No-one has ever been hit by part of a spacecraft and only one person is known to have been hit by a piece of "space junk": in 1997 Lottie Williams was walking through a park in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at 04:00 when some mesh debris from a second-stage Delta rocket hit her on the shoulder.

Tiangong-1 is not created to withstand re-entry, as some spacecraft are.

Generally, objects will burn up for a few seconds upon re-entering, looking a lot like shooting stars blazing a trail of fire behind them.

According to Harvard University astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, Tiangong-1's descent has been speeding up.

Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist from Harvard University, seems a bit less anxious about the satellite than some, but he still has a note of caution, as he told The Guardian. China still hasn't said when they lost control of the space station. Before that, in 1991, the last uncontrolled return was Salyut 7 - or Cosmos 1686 - weighing 40 tonnes.

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