China's First Space Station Will Fall Out of the Sky in One Month

Tuesday, 06 March 2018 - 6:55PM
Space
Technology
Tuesday, 06 March 2018 - 6:55PM
China's First Space Station Will Fall Out of the Sky in One Month
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CNSA
Spare a thought for the Tiangong-1, a space station and laboratory that isn't going to be in orbit for very much longer.

The base, built by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) in 2011, has been used for a series of tests and experiments over the years, and has periodically been visited by astronauts. With the construction of the Tiangong-2 in 2016, the original space station has become less of a priority for China's scientists, and as such, Tiangong-1 has been abandoned.

Experts from the European Space Agency (ESA) estimate that the Tiangong-1 has about a month left before it returns to terra firma. Apparently, it should crash down at some point between the dates of March 29 and April 9, 2018, give or take a week.



As for where the spaceship will land, it's harder to be certain. Official estimates from the ESA put the location "anywhere between 43ºN and 43ºS", which is a big stretch of the planet. The Tiangong-1 could end up crashing down in either North or South America, or in Australia, New Zealand, China, the Middle East, or other parts of Asia. Essentially, we have absolutely no idea where the space station will land.

This uncertainty wouldn't be an issue if China had already constructed the country's proposed laser system for shooting down man-made space junk, but alas, this awesome creation doesn't exist, and as such, we're all going to have to keep our eyes on the sky in case we see a piece of space station hurtling towards us.

Frightening as this prospect might sound, you probably shouldn't worry too much about getting crushed by falling debris. The majority of space junk burns up harmlessly on its way through the atmosphere, as do most meteors. Of the bits of space junk that do actually manage to touch down on the planet's surface, most plop harmlessly into the water - after all, this planet is very, very wet.



There has only ever been one reported case of someone actually being struck by a falling piece of astronaut junk, and in this instance, she wasn't hit so hard as to be injured in any way. Although her friends and family no doubt had to suffer for months afterwards as she bored them with the story of the time part of a spaceship fell on her.

Tiangong () literally means "heavenly palace" or "sky palace", making it a fitting name for a space station, even if China ultimately abandoned their first airborne palace the moment they were able to construct a better alternative. China is hardly the first country to do so - Russia's Mir space station, once a crowning jewel of space exploration, was allowed to fall to Earth in 2001.

This may seem like a waste of a perfectly good museum piece, but getting space stations back home safely requires far more effort (and resources) than it would be worth.

This doesn't help the planet's growing space litter problems, but for the moment, if space agencies and commercial space companies can get away with dumping their junk and hoping that it doesn't crush someone's car, they're not exactly going to volunteer for extra work to clean up after themselves.
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