Thursday, March 29, 2018

Tiangong-1 Most Likely to Crash to Earth on Easter Sunday

China's Tiangong-1 space station is predicted to fall back to Earth over Easter weekend. Image Credit: Nathan Koga / SpaceFlight Insider

Latest predictions indicate that China’s defunct Tiangong-1 space laboratory will fall to Earth most likely on April 1.

According to updated calculations made by The Aerospace Corporation, a non-profit corporation, providing technical guidance and advice on all aspects of space missions, Tiangong-1 will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere around 14:00 GMT (10:00 a.m. EDT) on April 1. However, the company noted that the re-entry could take place 16 hours earlier or later as well.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has also updated its forecast regarding Tiangong-1’s descent. ESA’s Space Debris Office, which coordinates the agency’s research relating to space debris, now predicts that the spacecraft will fall to our planet between midday on March 31 and early afternoon of April 1. The office reminded these estimates are always subject to change, due to an array of variables (for instance the variations of the atmosphere).

Meanwhile, the U.S. Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) has issued its own prediction for Tiangong-1’s re-entry. JSpOC estimates that the space laboratory will fall to Earth most likely on April 1 at about 0:52 GMT (8:52 p.m. EDT on March 31). However, the uncertainty window is still 30 hours wide.

According to China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO), Tiangong-1 will burnt up almost entirely in the atmosphere and it is highly unlikely that some pieces would survive the re-entry and cause any damage on the ground.

"There is no need for people to worry about its re-entry into the atmosphere. It won't crash to the Earth fiercely, as in sci-fi movie scenarios, but will look more like a shower of meteors," the office informed.

Furthermore, in a latest note that China sent to the UN on March 26, Beijing claims that the probability of damage to aviation activities and human life and facilities on Earth is extremely low.

Tiangong-1 is expected to re-enter somewhere between 43 degrees North and 43 degrees south latitudes. This large swath of Earth includes northern parts of the U.S., as well as countries such as Spain, Italy, Turkey, China, North Korea or Japan in the Northern Hemisphere. When it comes to the Southern Hemisphere, the likely locations that might be affected would be Chile, Argentina, Southern Australia or New Zealand.

Tiangong-1, which means “Heavenly Palace,” is China’s first space laboratory. With an estimated mass of 8.5 metric tons, the single-module station measures some 34 feet (10.4 meters) long and has a diameter of approximately 11 feet (3.4 meters). The spacecraft was launched in September of 2011. The control over Tiangong-1 was lost on March 16, 2016. It is assumed that the space station ceased functioning due to a dysfunctional battery charger.

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