Chinese space station expected to crash to Earth within weeks

Tiangong-1 reentry window forecast as of 6 March Credit ESA

Tiangong-1 reentry window forecast as of 6 March Credit ESA

A huge Chinese space lab is out of control and is now hurtling down towards our planet - with some space agencies predicting it will crash to Earth this month.

Launched in 2011, Tiangong-1 was China's first space station, and was intended as a training platform for a much larger space station scheduled to launch in the 2020's.

The European Space Agency is now predicting the descent as happening somewhere between March 27 and April 8, which, while still a large window, is significantly smaller than what we were able to predict previously.

The statement from Aerospace said there was "a chance that a small amount of debris" from the module will survive re-entry and hit the Earth.

"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. Still, there's a degree of uncertainty, coupled with concerns that the spacecraft could have titanium fuel tanks holding toxic hydrazine, which could be unsafe if it crashed into an urban area.

In any case, he said, his agency was coordinating closely with worldwide peers and they have asked China how much hydrazine was left in the spacecraft. But we will only know where they are going to land after after the fact'.

Orbit of Tiangong-1 as of 2018 March 7 @ 00:00:00.000 UTC. It was hard to predict when the module might land because its speed was affected by the constantly changing "weather" in space, he said.

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. "Every couple of years something like this happens, but Tiangong-1 is big and dense so we need to keep an eye on it", he told the Guardian.

The California-based Aerospace Corporation, a non-profit group that works with the U.S. government, said Tiangong-1's re-entry was unlikely to be controlled but it was highly unlikely to hit people or damage property, according to a post on its website last updated on Jan 3.

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. 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 out-of-control Chinese space station with "highly toxic" chemicals onboard could hit the Earth in 21 days, revised re-entry dates have revealed.

Holger Krag, head of ESA's Space Debris Office, said: 'Owing to the geometry of the station's orbit, we can already exclude the possibility that any fragments will fall over any spot further north than 43°N or further south than 43°S. There may be hazardous material on board that could survive re-entry, it said.

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