Tiangong-1: China’s doomed space station is about to crash on Earth


Tiangong-1, the first Chinese space station is in distress, it will soon fall uncontrollably back to Earth. The ultimate demise of the station should happen, according to the latest estimates, between the morning of March 31 and the afternoon of April 1, but it is difficult to be more precise. However, rest assured, when the station falls, there is very little risk that anybody will be hurt.

Tiangong-1, literally, “the palace of paradise” will not stay very long in the sky. The first Chinese space station is out of control after six and a half years of turning over our heads. Its atmospheric reentry is uncontrolled and the machine should crash during the weekend without the Chinese knowing where and when exactly.

This is impossible to predict accurately, because it depends on the density of the atmosphere and it varies over time because of the solar wind, a phenomenon that is still very poorly known.

According to the Chinese space agency, which released a statement on Friday, the risk of somebody getting hit by the station is practically none. The Earth is rather covered by the oceans and the land is not too populated. And on the other hand, this object will most likely explode or disintegrate in small parts by entering the atmosphere; the small pieces of debris will not pose a risk to the population.

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“People have no reason to worry,” said CMSEO, the Chinese office responsible for the design of manned space flights, on a social network. This kind of space station “does not crash on Earth violently like in sci-fi movies, but disintegrates into a splendid (meteor shower) in the beautiful starry sky, as its debris progresses toward Earth,” the statement explained.

Like a shooting star, Tiangong-1 will fall apart. Only its larger parts such as its tanks should withstand this test and touch the ground or more likely the ocean, which covers more than two thirds of the globe’s surface.

And if ever, by bad luck, these debris crashed on a continent, the risk that they affect a human being is insignificant. It’s about the same as being struck six times by lightning in one year.

Launched in 2011, the Tiangong-1 module has long been emblematic of China’s desire to conquer space. A desire reaffirmed in recent years with the development of the country’s space program, materialized, among others, by the launch of Tiangong-2 in September 2016. Since then, the Chinese have had some successes. In addition to completing their longest manned mission (two Chinese astronauts had spent 33 days aboard Tiangong-2), Beijing had been able, in early 2017, to launch into space its first space cargo ship, Tianzhou-1. Successes expected to pave the way for the deployment in 2022 of a much larger space station.

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Eid Lee

Eid is a freelance journalist from California. He covers different topics for The Talking Democrat but focuses mostly on technology and science.