ESA Announces When and Where China's Rogue Space Station Will Crash to Earth

Monday, 19 March 2018 - 2:08PM
Monday, 19 March 2018 - 2:08PM
ESA Announces When and Where China's Rogue Space Station Will Crash to Earth
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Image credit: YouTube
Tiangong-1, the Chinese space agency's original orbital space station and laboratory, has been abandoned in orbit.

Getting the thing down onto the planet's surface would be too much of a hassle, so, in the grand tradition of space littering, China has elected to simply leave it to fall out of the sky.

Maybe it'll make it back to the Earth, or maybe it'll completely vaporize once it reaches the atmosphere—at present, no one knows for certain. What we do know, thanks to the European Space Agency, is approximately when and where Tiangong-1 will drop.

Or, at least, we now have a better idea of when and where to expect the station's wreckage to make a dramatic swan dive. In truth, it's still incredibly difficult to predict the moment that Tiangong-1 will give in to the pressure of Earth's gravity, and where on its slingshot journey around the Earth it'll be when this happens. The good news is that this wide field of time and space has been narrowed down somewhat, but considering that we previously expected it to fall somewhere on Earth, any improvement is better than nothing.

Where previously, the crash was expected eventually in no certain terms, before being narrowed down to some time before mid-April, the ESA now predicts that Tiangong-1 will drop at some point between March 30 and April 6, which means that we now only need to spend a week staring up at the sky, nervously.

If you're in northern parts of the United States or anywhere above, you're pretty safe anyway—the revised map of Tiangong-1's potential landing places shows that if it's still relatively cold where you live, you don't have to worry.

It's worth noting that the ESA has made it clear that "at no time will a precise time/location prediction from ESA be possible." Anything could change to throw off calculations, so here's hoping your home insurance covers orbital acts of government neglect.

It's anticipated that anything between 10 and 40 percent of Tiangong-1 will make it back to Earth, so we'll have to wait and see where it drops.

Chances are, it's probably going to plop into the ocean. We don't call our home the Blue Planet for nothing, and the vast majority of space junk that makes it to Earth ends up lost in the sea, rather than smooshing your dog while you're on your morning walk.

That said, it's worth keeping an eye out, just in case. With up to 200 pounds of broken spaceship likely to rain down, things could get messy if you're really, really unlucky.