China’s Tiangong-1 Space Lab Could Produce Fireball Streaks Upon Re-Entry, Debris Unlikely To Cause Injury

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After five years in orbit, China decommissioned Tiangong-1, and the debris of the 19,000-pound space lab will re-enter Earth between the end of March and April 6.

The space station went out of orbit in 2016, and the European Space Agency expected it to fall back to Earth at the end of 2017. As reported by Time, the debris from Tiangong-1 can range from 2,000 to 8,000 pounds. While the weight of the space lab is significant, most of it will burn up when it enters the Earth’s atmosphere.

Spectacular Sight

While experts have a rough idea where the possible crash site for Tiangong-1 will be, it’s impossible to make predictions with certainty since the lab orbits the planet more than once a day.

Dr. William Ailor of the Aerospace Corporation Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies assures the public that the debris from the space lab doesn’t pose any harm.

“We had three objects reenter randomly in 2016 and four in 2017 the same size range. There were no reports of damage and in general no reports of these actually being seen.”

It’s worth noting that three similar objects re-entered Earth in 2016, and there were four in 2017. However, there has been no report of accidents related to the re-entry of this space junk.

If the space lab enters a populated area, there is no need to worry. In fact, people living close by can look forward to a spectacular sight as the space lab burns up during re-entry. There’s a high probability that the fireball streaks will be the last remnants of the space lab being blown apart.

Possible Landing Sites

Southern Michigan is among the places where the Tiangong-1 might re-enter the planet. Timothy Dolch, an Assistant Physics Professor, explained to The Collegian that the most significant concern is whether there is some fuel left in the tank. Having excess fuel is beneficial since this will help blow up the space lab into smaller pieces upon re-entry.

Since the re-entry is unplanned, the orbiting speed can’t be increased. Tiangong-1 has been in low-orbit for years, and it’s bound to re-enter the planet. Despite the fact that the descent is unplanned, Dolch contends that this event is not something people should panic to get an insurance policy over.

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Dolch cited the Cassini-Huygens mission back in 1997, which burned up during its entry in Saturn’s atmosphere in 2017. The event, dubbed “the grand finale,” has been a controversial affair. During the launch of the mission, there was a 0.01 percent chance that radioactive material would contaminate Florida. Compared to the mission, Tiangong-1’s re-entry is by far, safer.

Some reports also emerged that the space lab will hit New Zealand, but nothing can be confirmed as yet. A final announcement on where the debris will land is only possible during the last few minutes before the re-entry of Tiangong-1.