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Five Things to Know About China's Falling Space Station

Five Things to Know About China's Falling Space Station

In January, the California-based nonprofit Aerospace Corp. predicted that Tiangong-1 would reenter in mid-March, give or take two weeks.

China lost contact with its Tiangong-1, or Heavenly Palace-1, space station in 2016, and the 8.5-tonne outpost has been drifting aimlessly since.

CHINA'S first space station with "highly toxic" chemicals on board is expected to crash down to Earth within weeks - but experts can not say where the 8.5 tonne spacecraft will hit.

The nonprofit included a map that illustrated zones where Tiangong-1 could fall, noting that even for people in the "worst-case location" (the yellow region), the chances of being struck by debris are "about one million times smaller than the odds of winning the Powerball jackpot".

"Once it starts to break apart, each of the pieces will fall along the track, but they can be spread out by several hundred miles", he added.

China has also refused to release details of what is on board, meaning it's harder for scientists to predict where it will land. "To become affected, a person must touch or inhale it in large quantities for a long period", he said.

"Normally, when a spacecraft goes through the earth's atmosphere, the substance will be burned away, except when the structures are very large", he said. "It's a Chinese satellite so we don't totally know what's going on, but as far as we can tell, 2015 was the last time the Chinese government ever sent a control to it", Cambridge astronomer Matt Bothwell tells Phoebe Braithwaite at Wired.

This is due to the orbit the space station is now in.




Orbit of Tiangong-1 as of 2018 March 7 @ 00:00:00.000 UTC.

While the station's movements will be more unpredictable as it moves closer to Earth, the agency is preparing a plan and draft guidelines including on the handling of hydrazine for all agencies despite the extremely remote chance of an incident.

Unless China reveals more about what exactly is involved with the construction and descent of the Chinese space station, there's now no telling what exactly will happen when it makes contact with Earth. The delay of re-entry into the earth's atmosphere, which Beijing said would happen in late 2017, had led some experts to suggest the space laboratory may be out of control.

The US-funded Aerospace Corporation estimates Tiangong-1 will re-enter the atmosphere during the first week of April.

Zhu Congpeng, a top engineer at the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, told the state-backed Science and Technology Daily newspaper that the station was not crashing and did not pose a safety or environmental threat.

In recent months, the spacecraft has been speeding up and it is now falling by around 6km (3.7 miles) a week. And it will fall, as, according to the calculations, the angle of entry into the atmosphere will be that station of time to fully burn.

A Chinese space station, which is now hurtling out-of-control through space, could impact the Earth within 21 days and New Zealand may be in the firing line.

'I would guess that a few pieces will survive re-entry.


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