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Out Of Control: China's Tiangong-1 Space Station Will Crash To Earth In 2017

Out Of Control: China's Tiangong-1 Space Station Will Crash To Earth In 2017

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First Posted: Sep 22, 2016 03:57 AM EDT
China's First Space Laboratory Module Tiangong-1
A Long March 2F rocket carried the country's first space laboratory module Tiangong-1 to Space on September 29, 2011 from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.
(Photo : Lintao Zhang / Getty Images)

China's first space station Tiangong-1 will come crashing down to Earth sometime in next year, following concerns that the Chinese space authorities have lost their control of the 10.4m-long module. The "Heavenly Palace" lab has earlier been described as a "potent political symbol" of China's ever growing power initially when it was launched in 2011 as an ambitious attempt to make China a space superpower.

Last week, speaking at a satellite launch centre near the Gobi Desert, the officials stated that the unmanned module had fulfilled its historical mission and will re-enter the earth's atmosphere in the second half of 2017 as its final journey.

"Based on the calculations and deep analysis, most of the space lab parts will eventually burn up in the Earth's atmosphere," Wu Ping, deputy director of manned space engineering office, was quoted  by China's official news agency Xinhua. The announcement has partly confirmed speculations raised a few months before that China had lost its control of the 8.5-tonne module after having suffered some kind of technical failure.

 

Damage to Earth?

Renowned Harvard astrophysicist, Jonathan McDowell stated that this announcement has again suggested China having lost its control of the Space station. He also added that the module would re-enter the Earth's atmosphere by itself. And if this really is the case, it would be very difficult to predict the exact locations where the debris from the station will strike."We really can't control these objects," he stated. "Even a few days before it re-enters we won't know when or where it's going to come down." He also said a minute change in the atmospheric conditions could change the landing site from one continent to the other.

According to Space.com, while most of the eight tonnes of the space station would melt due to friction from the atmosphere, some dense parts such as the engines wouldn't burn up completely. There may be debris as massive as a 100kg object. So there's a finite chance of it causing damage. Wu Ping earlier told reporters that the lab had made very important contributions during its four and a half years of service to China's manned space mission. The Space Station was launched into space amidst great fanfare back in September 2011

Wu Ping claims it is highly unlikely that the module's return to earth will affect any aviation activities or cause damages to the ground. "China has always valued management of the space debris by conducting tests regarding space debris mitigation on," Wu said, according to Xinhua. Tiangong-1 is also reported to be intact currently and authorities still continue to monitor its activities. "If it'll be necessary, China will beforehand release an international forecast when it falls," she added.

Space enthusiasts as well as researchers, who have been monitoring Tiangong-1 since a while, had been trying to gather attention to its fall. They fear that there still is a risk, no matter how small, that pieces of the falling module could cause serious damage to property as well as life back on earth.

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