China’s Tiangong-1 space station is reentering our atmosphere

First space station of China

Tiangong-1, the first experimental space lab of China, is expected to fall back to Earth around on Sunday (April 1) afternoon (7:25 p.m. EDT), or on early morning of Monday(April 2), officials with European Space Agency (ESA) said in an update on March 31.

While Aerospace Corporation (American corp.), which is also tracking Tiangong-1, predicts Tiangong-1 will crash at 23:30 UTC ± 7 hours.

first space lab of china
China’s first space station Tiangong-1, shown here in an artist’s illustration, is expected to fall to Earth around April 1, 2018. Credit: China Manned Space Engineering Office

Tiangong-1 was the first space station launched by China on 30th, september 2011. The size of this space station was about 34×11 feet (about the size of a school bus) and weighted around 9.4 ton. On 21 march 2016, China released a statement declaring that they had lost control on Tiangong. From then Tiangong orbit was decaying due to earth’s gravity and was predicted to reenter in early 2018. It is said to be orbiting the Earth 16 times a day and tumbling over every three minutes in a downward spiral towards earth.

chinese space station
Tiangong’s expected areas to crash credits; thesun.co.uk

Tiangong-1 orbits Earth with an inclination between 43 degrees north and 43 degrees south latitudes. Therefore, the debris could land anywhere between tiangong earth’s orbital. That swath of geographical expanse includes much of the populated world, including the United States.

The time for Tiangong-1’s uncontrolled descent remains highly uncertain because of the solar activity. If the sun is active, its energy pushes more strongly against Earth’s atmosphere. The density of the atmosphere affects the drag against Tiangong-1’s orbital speed. As Tiangong-1 loses energy due to drag, it falls towards Earth.

Lu Kang, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said the country would step up efforts to coordinate with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs as the craft approaches.

According to the Chinese space office, during re-entry, atmospheric drag will rip away solar arrays, antennas and other external components at an altitude of around 100 kilometres (60 miles). The intensifying heat and friction will cause the main structure to burn or blow up, and it should disintegrate at an altitude of around 80km, it said.

Harvard University astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell predicts only 220 to 440 lbs. (100 to 200 kg) will make it through to the surface. Another expert on space debris said the craft would break up into a “series of fireballs”, adding it would be a “spectacular show”.

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