Published: Tue, April 03, 2018
Science | By Cecil Little

'Out of control' space lab to become celestial fireball: China

'Out of control' space lab to become celestial fireball: China

China's space agency said Thursday that the roughly eight-tonne Tiangong-1 will re-enter the atmosphere some time between Saturday and Monday.

Below are some questions and answers about the station, its re-entry and the past and future of China's ambitious space program.

"Only one person has ever been recorded as being hit by a piece of space debris and, fortunately, she was not injured".

"I think we will have our first environmental superfund site in Earth orbit in the next decade given the amount of debris that is there right now and the projected increase of objects in the coming years due to cheap access to space", Reddy said.

Boffins are unclear about where parts from the space station will eventually land and many experts even believe most of the debris will burn up during the re-entry.

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Because two-thirds of Earth is covered by oceans and vast land areas are thinly populated, The Aerospace Corporation reasoned that danger to life or property is very low, and any surviving reentry debris will most likely fall into an ocean.

A model of the Tiangong-1 space lab module (left), the Shenzhou-9 manned spacecraft and three Chinese astronauts is displayed during a news conference at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, in Gansu province, China June 15, 2012. In 2016, Chinese scientists lost control of Tiangong-1.

No visitors arrived at Tiangong-1 after that second crew, but the station was still used to gather data and observe Earth's surface, monitoring ocean and forest use, according to Space.com.

China's own space program raised major concerns after it used a missile to destroy an out-of-service Chinese satellite in 2007, creating a large and potentially unsafe cloud of debris.

Since then, it has orbited gradually closer and closer to Earth on its own while being monitored.

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When is the Chinese space station going to crash? It has been visited by two crewed missions.

These missions proved the viability of China's space station tech (another test platform, Tiangong-2, was launched in 2016), and in 2013 Tiangong-1, having accomplished what its creators set out to do, was deactivated.

During the re-entry, atmospheric drag will rip away solar arrays, antennas and other external components at an altitude of around 100 kilometres, according to the Chinese space office.

Although the orbital decay of Tiangong-1 can be measured, variations in density in the upper layers of the atmosphere and the exact mass and material composition of the space station as it breaks apart cannot be determined.

China also plans to put a man on the moon and send a rover to Mars.

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