Since 2016, scientists and researchers have worked to determine where Tiangong-1, an out-of-control Chinese space station, may end up when it ultimately crashes into Earth. The massive 8.5 ton space station is hurtling closer to its final impact by the day, and a cooperative effort to predict its final resting place is finally narrowing down the area where it is most likely to land.
According to the most recent report by Aerospace Corporation, an American-funded non-profit company, the Tiangong-1 space station is likely to meet its end in “northern China, central Italy, northern Spain, the Middle East, New Zealand, Tasmania, South America, southern Africa and northern states in the U.S. as regions with higher chances.” As Michigan Live reports, portions of Lower Michigan “fall into the regions listed with the highest probability of debris landing” when Tiangong-1 crashes to Earth sometime in the next couple of months.
“It is only in the final week or so that we are going to be able to start speaking about it with more confidence.”
Despite these educated guesses, which are getting better as the date of impact approaches, nobody knows for sure where the wayward Tiangong-1, which means “heavenly palace,” will end up. Experts do agree, however, that the space station will fall to Earth somewhere between latitudes of 43° north and 43° south. It is expected that the Tiangong-1 space station will re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere sometime between late March and late April.
Aerospace Corporation estimates that re-entry will occur on April 3, give or take two weeks. The Space Debris Office of the European Space Agency, estimates that the space station will re-enter the atmosphere between March 24 and April 19.
Where it will land is much harder to estimate with accuracy.
The Tiangong-1 was launched on September 29, 2011, and became out-of-control in 2016. Since then, it has been falling unpredictably toward Earth. As Daily Mail reports, the 8.5 ton Chinese space station is 10.4 meters long with a diameter of 3.35 meters, and has been a source of concern for years now. The Chinese Space Agency previously estimated that Tiangong-1 would re-enter the atmosphere in late 2017, but that proved not to be the case.
Fortunately, the bulk of the space station is expected to burn up upon re-entry. Due to its massive size, however, it is plausible that large chunks may remain and prove hazardous to life or property.
“There is a chance that a small amount of Tiangong-1 debris may survive reentry and impact the ground. Should this happen, any surviving debris would fall within a region that is a few hundred kilometers in size and centered along a point on the Earth that the station passes over.”
In addition to posing a potential “falling object threat” with surviving chunks of debris weighing up to 220 pounds, the doomed Tiangong-1, China’s first prototype space station, is also believed to be laden with the hazardous chemical hydrazine. Hydrazine has a plethora of military, industrial, and agricultural uses and is commonly used in rocket fuel. The colorless liquid can cause irritation to various human tissues, dizziness, nausea, seizures, coma, and pulmonary edema. It has been classified as a probable carcinogen by the EPA.
According to Aerospace Corporation, it is highly unlikely that anyone will be hit, let alone injured or killed by falling Tiangong-1 debris. Since record keeping began, only one person is ever known to have been hit by falling space junk, and she was reportedly not injured.
“When considering the worst-case locations, the probability that a specific person will be struck by Tiangong-1 debris is about one million times smaller than the odds of winning the Powerball jackpot.”