China’s Tiangong 1, a large prototype space station currently orbiting the planet, is likely to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere and crash by the end of this month. According to a recent prediction by the European Space Agency, the out of control space station could come crashing down to the Earth anytime between March 29 and April 9. This is of course, as per their current estimates.
While earlier reports hinted at the possibility of the Tiangong crash landing somewhere in Oceania, current estimates seem to indicate that the Tiangong 1 has parts of Europe in its sight. The European Space Agency’s latest estimation indicates that the Tiangong 1 would reenter the Earth’s atmosphere between 43 degrees north and 43 degrees south latitudes. This potentially puts the countries of Spain, Portugal, and Greece at risk. The space agency, however, maintains that their estimation at this point of time is pretty “imprecise” and that the northern states of the contiguous U.S., parts of China, and even some middle eastern countries are also at risk.
Meanwhile, it’s been some time since the Chinese Space Agency confirmed that it had completely lost control of the space station. By losing control, the agency meant that they were no longer able to maneuver or adjust its orbit to ensure that it crashes safely into a desolate part of the planet — preferably in the open seas. Back in 2017, China had already provided a rough forecast of the period that the space station would crash.
Latest #Tiangong1 reentry forecast provided by the #SpaceDebris Office at ESA’s #ESOC mission control centre, Darmstadt, Germany: Current estimated window is ~29 Mar to ~9 Apr; this is highly variable. Details & FAQ via https://t.co/ewPaZbNDDm pic.twitter.com/osY2qoXbZ8
— ESA Operations (@esaoperations) March 6, 2018
While it is a large object, the Tiangong 1 is likely to be destroyed during the course of re-entry thanks to the tremendous frictional force it will endure at the time. However, considering the size of the object, there is some chance that parts of the space station could eventually reach the earth’s surface. If even a reasonably sized part hits a populated area, it could cause injury or even death to civilians. Another major concern around the Tiangong 1 is the fact that some of the highly toxic materials used inside the space shuttle could potentially reach the Earth and could prove to be hazardous for anyone who comes in proximity to them.
The Tiangong 1 was a prototype space station launched into orbit by China back in 2011. The name Tiangong translates to “Heavenly Palace.” The space station served as a manned laboratory and an experimental testbed to demonstrate orbital rendezvous and docking capabilities. The Tiangong 1 will be succeeded by larger, more complex space stations from China in the future.
The ESA and other space agencies will continue to monitor the progress of the Tiangong 1 in the days to come. They should also be able to predict a point of re-entry in the days to come.