The Chinese space station Tiangong-1 is expected to enter the Earth’s atmosphere by Monday. According to the CMSEO, the Chinese office responsible for the design of manned spaceflight, its equipment should disintegrate into a splendid meteor shower.
A defunct Chinese space station will enter the atmosphere in the next 24 hours , at speeds exceeding 26,000 kilometers / hour, before disintegrating into a celestial fireball, the Chinese authorities said Sunday.
The Tiangong-1 is expected to drop on Monday, Beijing time, according to the Chinese Authority for Manned Spaceflight (CMS), which roughly corresponds to projections by the European Space Agency (ESA).
Controlled Entry into the Atmosphere
The abandoned space station weighs about eight tons but is not expected to cause damage by falling. China promises a “splendid” show, similar to a meteor shower instead of any casualty. The window of re-entry in the atmosphere remains however subject to variations, warned the ESA.
Similarly, there is uncertainty about where debris could spread. They could fall anywhere between 43 degrees north and 43 degrees south, from New Zealand to the US Midwest.
A Splendid Show
The laboratory was placed in orbit in September 2011. It had to make a controlled return to Earth’s atmosphere, but stopped working in March 2016, raising concerns about its “fall”. However, the risk for a human being to be hit by space debris of more than 200 grams is one in 700 million, according to the CMSEO, the Chinese office responsible for the design of human spaceflight.
“People have no reason to worry,” said the CMSEO. This kind of space station “does not crash on Earth like a sci-fi movie, but disintegrates into a beautiful (meteor shower) in the beautiful starry sky, as its debris progresses to Earth”, he explained.
Tiangong-1, or “Heavenly Palace”, has been used for medical experiments. The laboratory was also considered a preliminary step in the construction of a space station. In 60 years of spaceflight, there have been some 6,000 uncontrolled returns of large man-made objects, and only one debris has touched anyone, without hurting them, according to Stijn Lemmens, an ESA expert. Increasing heat and friction will then cause the main structure to burn or explode, some 80 km from Earth, according to the same source.
Most of the fragments will disperse in the air and a small number will fall relatively slowly before crashing, probably at sea. The oceans occupy more than 70% of the Earth’s surface.
A space station inhabited in 2022?
Tiangong-1 Station is the 50th largest object to make an uncontrolled return since 1957, said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the “Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics”. China has invested billions of euros in the space conquest to try to catch up with Europe and the United States. Coordinated by the army, it is perceived as a symbol of the new power of the country.
Beijing aims to send a spacecraft around Mars by 2020, before deploying an unmanned vehicle on the red planet. The Asian giant also wants to deploy an inhabited space station by 2022, when the International Space Station (ISS) has ceased to function. China also dreams of sending a man to the moon.