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China’s Space Station Tiangong-1 'Out Of Control', Debris Could Hit US

China’s Space Station Tiangong-1 'Out Of Control', Debris Could Hit US

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First Posted: Sep 22, 2016 05:57 AM EDT
Earth & Mir (STS-71)
Image used for representation only. NASA / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0

China has confirmed rumors that its space station, Tiangong-1 has gone out of control and will crash back to Earth in 2017. The news was reportedly revealed at a recent press conference by a senior official from the crewed space program in the country.

"Based on our calculation and analysis, most parts of the space lab will burn up during falling," said Wu Ping, deputy director of the manned space engineering office in China. According to a report in The Guardian, the announcement seemed to confirm the speculation that China had lost control of its space station due to some kind of mechanical or technical failure. As per Chinese officials, the space station had already fulfilled the historical mission it had embarked on.

Launched in 2011, the Tiangong-1 space station module was supposed to be de-orbited at the end of its service and burn up in the atmosphere or crash into the ocean. The return journey of a spacecraft into Earth is usually tricky, especially if it is uncontrolled due to the intense heat produced. According to the officials in China, Tiangong-1 will re-enter our planet during the latter half of 2017. The fact that China's government was not giving a specific time period for the module's re-entry into Earth had led to the speculations that the country had lost control of Tiangong-1, a module weighing 18,000 pounds and measuring 35 foot.  

Freefalling space modules usually burn up on their way back to the surface of the planet and fall down as small molten metal chunks, rather than creating a huge crash impact. According to Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard University, the debris of the space station could hit any area on Earth located between 43N and 43S, which includes "most of North America, parts of Europe and Asia, and all of South America, Africa and Oceania (in the Pacific Ocean)." As per reports, though the falling space station debris does not pose a huge risk of damage to humans or property, it may lead to a nasty experience if a 200-pound piece of molten metal chunk hits someone on the head.

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