Multiple reports indicate that China’s Tiangong-1 space station is out of control. If true, this could result in the eight-ton space lab dropping from orbit and falling uncontrollably toward Earth. The Tiangong-1 space station was launched into orbit back in 2011, and an uncontrolled fall from the sky wasn’t part of China’s plans for the giant station once its mission had been completed.
As Earth We Are One reports, China’s Tiangong-1 space station (a name that translates to “heavenly palace” in English) was supposed to be “safely de-orbited” upon reaching the end of its planned five-year mission. The original plan was for the Tiangong-1 to burn up in the atmosphere as it fell back to Earth and to fall to an uninhabited location to ensure that its re-entry caused no damage or harm.
Unfortunately, multiple reports indicate that the Chinese Space Agency has lost control of the giant space station. If that’s the case, it could mean that the Tiangong-1 may fall back to Earth at random, landing virtually anywhere, and potentially putting people in populated areas at serious risk of injury or death, not to mention the potential for property damage.
If China’s Tiangong-1 space station is indeed hurtling out of control in Earth’s orbit, much of the bulk of the massive piece of machinery should (theoretically) burn up as it falls through the atmosphere and back to earth. However, because of its size, it is very plausible that parts of the space station could make it, intact, through Earth’s thick atmospheric layers and come crashing back down to the planet’s surface.
It’s possible that some of the surviving chunks of the Tiangong-1 space station could be quite large; large enough to be quite dangerous to anyone or anything unlucky enough to be in the way.
As Space reports, many amateur astronomers and amateur satellite trackers are incredibly concerned with the fate of the Tiangong-1 space station. One such amateur astronomer, Thomas Dorman, has gone public with his fears that China might improperly handle a malfunction of the reportedly wayward space lab.
“If I am right, China will wait until the last minute to let the world know it has a problem with their space station.”
Prior to the pervasive internet chatter regarding China’s potentially out of control Tiangong-1, there had been multiple reports of the lab malfunctioning. The Chinese Media had previously reported that the Chinese Space Space Agency had been having trouble communicating with the unit, which has only added to the speculation that something is seriously wrong with the Tiangong-1.
China’s government-controlled media has declined to give any updates on the status of the Tiangong-1 space station, which has only added fuel to the speculation fire.
Indeed, officials in China have yet to confirm their official “end of mission” plans for the space station, which leaves some experts (and admitted amateurs) hopeful that it may still be possible for the Tiangong-1 to be “de-orbited” in a controlled, safe manner that doesn’t put those below at risk.
“It could be a real bad day if pieces of this came down in a populated area… but odds are, it will land in the ocean or an unpopulated area. But remember – sometimes, the odds just do not work out, so this may bear watching.”
If you’re interested in checking out the path (controlled or otherwise) of China’s Tiangong-1, you can do so with this satellite tracker.
What do you think about the potential failure of the Tiangong-1? Do you think it’s something that we should be concerned about? Do you think China will give the world ample warning if their space station is going to fall, uncontrolled, to Earth? Does China’s Tiangong-1 space station pose a risk or are amateurs simply speculating over nothing?
[Image via Joinmepic/Shutterstock]