China's Space Station is Falling to Earth

Saul Bowman
March 28, 2018

According to space debris experts, the chances that you will be hit by of a chunk of space metal are essentially zero.

China's space agency, CNSA, have never fully explained why Tiangong-1 "ceased functioning" on March 16 after reaching its "final phase of life".

The Aerospace Corporation estimates that Tiangong-1 will re-enter somewhere between the latitudes of 43° north and south, which is a range similar to other space junk that has fallen in recent years, including Germany's ROSAT satellite and the European Space Agency's GOCE satellite in 2013.

Only one person is known to have been hit by space debris.

Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist from Harvard University, recorded the speed of Tiangong-1 at about 6km a week, faster than its recorded speed at 1.5km in October.

In 1979, the 77-tonne US space station Skylab fell toward Earth, with some pieces, both large and small, reaching the ground.

"This is because the event depends on a number of factors including the variation in density of the atmosphere, the orientation of the spacecraft and the uncertainties in its exact location and velocity", Prof.

Defunct Chinese space station seen in space
Fraunhofer Getty Defunct Chinese space station seen in space

But the China National Space Administration has refuted the "hysteria", stressing that the remnants of Tiangong-1, if there are any, will only fall into the South Pacific, following the trajectory of the epic de-orbit of the Mir in 2001.

In 2011, Nasa said after calculation that the chance of a 6.5 tonne object hitting someone was one in 3,200 and it would be the most unlikely fatality in anyone's death.

Firstly, most of the debris will be disbursed on hitting the Earth's atmosphere, but 30-40 percent of it will likely survive.

Astronomer Gianluca Masi with the Virtual Telescope Project has been tracking the space station and even managed to photograph it streaking across the sky earlier this month.

It's hard to calculate where parts of the spacecraft could crash into Earth, experts say.

It's important to note that the majority of Tiangong-1 is expected to burn up upon reentry into our atmosphere. While the most probable location for debris to fall is into the oceans, any pieces falling on land should be avoided and reported immediately, as they may be contaminated with hydrazine, a highly toxic and corrosive chemical that is used as spacecraft fuel.

"This forecast was updated approximately weekly through to mid-March, and is now being updated every one to two days". "According to the calculations and analysis that have been carried out, most of the structural components of Tiangong-1 will be destroyed through burning during the course of its re-entry".

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