The warning has been going on for a few months, but from next week it could become a reality. The uncontrolled Chinese space station Tiangong-1 could fall fall back to earth as soon as next week.
As reported by the European Space Agency (ESA), based in the German city of Darmstadt, the station could fall as of next week. But the European experts assured that there is no need to worry. “The probability of being injured by debris (from the space station) is as high as the possibility of being struck by lightning twice in the same year,” said Holger Krag, director of ESA’s Office of Space Debris.
According to ESA, the impact of the Chinese space laboratory, of which the Chinese lost control in 2016, is not comparable to what a meteor would make. In this sense, ESA specifies that from the 30 kilometers of altitude, the debris has a normal speed of fall that, in no case, would cause a crater on Earth.
ESA estimates that the fall of Tiangong-1 will occur between March 30 and April 6. “The craft is now at about 280 km altitude in an orbit that will inevitably decay some time in March–April 2018, when it is expected to mostly burn up in the atmosphere,” ESA wrote in a statement. “The date, time and geographic footprint can only be predicted with large uncertainties. Even shortly before reentry, only a very large time and geographical window can be estimated.”
In September of last year it was announced that China could no longer control the “Heavenly Palace” station of 8.5 tons and that after six years in space and numerous experiments, it would fall to Earth in an uncontrolled manner.
According to the country’s space agency, Tiangong-1 rotates around the Earth each time in a lower orbit. It is believed that it will enter the atmosphere on March 30th. There, up to 3.5 tons may not disintegrate and subsequently fall to the earth’s surface.
The area where these space debris could fall is enormous. According to Krag, the remains of the laboratory could fall into a belt that spans from 43 degrees south and 43 degrees north of the equator. In this sense, it could reach all oceans and all continents, with the exception of Antarctica.
It is not the first time that space junk has fallen to Earth. The largest artifact so far was the Russian station “Saliut 7”, whose fragments fell in 1991 in Argentina without hitting any person. In addition, a US space station called Skylab fell back to earth in 1979 amid worldwide media attention.
ESA also pointed out that the uncontrolled fall of space debris is common. “Between 70 and 80 tons of space debris fall on average every year in an uncontrolled manner,” said the director of the Office of space debris.