Countdown Begins for Chinese Space Station to Plummet to Earth

Howard TerryMar 09, 2018

The months-long speculation finally comes to an end as experts are watching the path of the 8.5-tonne (more than 3,200 kilograms) module as it nears the surface of the Earth.

So what are the chances it'll land on you?

There has only ever been one case of a piece of space debris striking a person.

The Tiangong-1 space station, which is hurtling towards Earth carrying a "highly toxic chemical", will likely hit sometime between March 24 and April 19.

Matt Bothwell, an astronomer at Cambridge University's Institute of Astronomy specialising in galaxy formation and evolution, says that in statistical terms this is really "billions to one".

Now, despite the fact that the location and the exact time of the space station's crash on Earth is unknown, the odds of Tiangong-1 hitting you or your home is extremely slim.

China's Tiangong-1 which is dubbed as Heavenly Palace Lab was launched in 2011 by China's space agency in its attempt to become a space superpower. Although China's Tiangong-1 had successful obeyed the commands of the ground control and release its thrust at intervals to stay perfectly on its course, the space agency alerted that it has lost control over the module. "The reason we can't predict when is because when depends on how much headwind it's experiencing", Harvard astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell told VICE News.

Generally, space station and satellites need little push to stay in its assigned orbit and altitude.

It was initially launched to serve as a manned laboratory and an experimental station to demonstrate orbital rendezvous and docking capabilities, but four years after launching it, Beijing revealed they would not be able to perform a re-entry because they had lost control of the space station.

Some parts of the station may survive the fall, however. It was China's first space station. That's a pretty imprecise estimate, but the ESA says it's more likely that the object will land somewhere in the northern latitudes, meaning the northern United States, parts of Spain, Portugal, Greece, China, much of the Middle East, and a handful of other countries. They have also warned that the debris may contain a highly toxic and corrosive fuel called hydrazine on board.

"There is a chance that a small amount of debris from the module will survive reentry and impact the ground". Williams was sure she'd found a piece of a shooting star. However, the descent rate of Tiangong-1 has sped up to over 6km in a week which makes it hard to anticipate its proper landing site due to the intermittent weather in the space. Variations in the density of the upper layers of the atmosphere, along with the craft's orientation, physical composition, speed and location make it a finicky business.

The Tiangong-1 is not the largest object to re-enter the atmosphere in an uncontrolled fashion.

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