- Space station damaged; China no longer controlling it
- Space debris incoming, but who knows where or when?
- Falling to Earth sometime late 2017 or early 2018
- “Hopefully,” it will burn up entirely!
- If not, could debris hit a populated area?
In a press conference in September 2016, Chinese space agency officials confirmed what many observers long suspected – “China is no longer in control of its Tiangong-1 (“heavenly place”) space station.” The United Nations has also been notified. Since then, the station’s orbit has steadily decayed, dipping into the more dense reaches of Earth’s atmosphere and falling faster.
Chinese space agency has lost control of its space station.
Taingong-1, launched unmanned aboard a rocket on 29 September 2011, has been orbiting Earth for 6 years. It was launched with an intended two-year service span, but has operated many years longer than intended. The last crew departed the module in June 2013.
In March 2016, it was decommissioned and put into sleep mode, intended to remain in orbit for a while so China could collect data before commanding it to “gradually reenter” the atmosphere. It continues its descent and “hopefully” will be destroyed in Earth’s atmosphere sometime between now and April 2018.
What is the “normal” method for decommissioning?
Normally, a decommissioned satellite or space station is retired by “forcing it” to burn up in the atmosphere – a controlled burn. Most satellite reentries are scheduled to burn up over the ocean to avoid endangering people.
But . . . will Taingong-1 burn up in a controlled manner?
Harvard astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, among others, says “parts of the craft such as the rocket engines are probably too dense and tough to be burnt up upon re-entry and may result in chunks of debris up to 100 kg (220 lbs) in weight falling to Earth’s surface, with little possibility of predicting where they may crash.”
This means . . . most likely . . . Tiangong-1 WILL NOT burn up in a controlled manner.
When and where will this happen?
As to time, currently all that is known is IT WILL BURN UP sometime between now and April 2018, but it seems, no one knows where or when.
Could Taingong-1 debris hit a populated area?
You bet! There is a chance that debris from the falling spacecraft could strike a populated area. So, keep your eyes on the skies between now and April 2018 because you never know what might just drop in uninvited on you with catastrophic results.
Be warned. Be aware.