An out-of-control Chinese space station Tiangong-1 is accelerating towards Earth and will crash land within months.
China launched its first space station Tiangong-1 in September 2011 aiming to set up a larger space complex.
Unfortunately, the Chinese engineers lost contact with the Tiangong-1 in September 2016. The officials at Chinese’s CNSA have predicted that it will crash Earth between October 2017 and April 2018.
The vehicle is 10.4 meters long and has a main diameter of 3.35 meters. With a liftoff mass of 8,506 kilograms and provides 15 cubic meters of pressurized volume. The spacecraft consists of three sections: the aft service module, a transition section and the habitable orbital module.
Due to its decaying orbit, the Tiangong-1 has started to fall faster in recent weeks.
Dr. Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist from Harvard said, “Now that [its] perigee is below 300km and it is in denser atmosphere, the rate of decay is getting higher”
“I expect it will come down a few months from now – late 2017 or early 2018.”
This horrible news has sparked immediate concerns for Earth habitants who could be at risk from the falling space debris.
“It could be a real bad day if pieces of this came down in a populated area, but odds are it will land in the ocean or in an unpopulated area.” said Mr. McDowell
Much of the spacecraft will burn up on re-entering the atmosphere. But some of the chunks falling from the sky might still weight up to 100kg, he further explained.
Such heavy fragments of spacecraft could cause some serious damage if they fall in a populated area. There are numerous past examples where space junk has fallen within sight of people, causing destruction and injuries.
The astro-experts are still unsure where exactly the spacecraft will land on Earth, or where its debris is going to land.
According to Mr. McDowell, we may only have hours of warning about where the spacecraft will land.
“You really can’t steer these things.”
“Even a couple of days before it re-enters we probably won’t know better than six or seven hours, plus or minus, when it’s going to come down.” He said
The space module has performed a series of docking exercises before, including the uncrewed Shenzhou-8 mission in 2011 and the crewed Shenzhou-10 mission in 2012.
According to the China Manned Space Engineering (CMSE), Tiagong-1 also contains Earth observation instrumentation and space environment detectors.
In 2014, the CMSE officials said, “ Tiagong-1 has obtained a great deal of application and science data, which is valuable in mineral resources investigation, ocean and forest application, hydrologic and ecological environment monitoring, land use, urban thermal environment monitoring and emergency disaster control.”
The Chinese space agency is striving hard to track the space station, it also vowed to issue warnings if there are any imminent potential collisions. But not everyone is convinced by their vows.
Thomas Dorman, an amateur satellite tracker told space.com, “If I am right, China will wait until the last minute to let the world know it has a problem with their space station.”
Tiangong-1, which means “Heavenly Palace”, was launched by China with the plan to show itself off as a global superpower. The plan failed miserably, however, China’s spacecraft still became the hot topic globally.