Falling Chinese Space Station Update: Tiangong-1 Satellite May Crash Into New Jersey on Easter
There's nothing we can do to stop Tiangong-1, China's first space satellite, from falling out of orbit and crashing through the atmosphere. That's going to happen.
We've known this for months now, but only recently have agencies narrowed down the date of Tiangong's re-entry to between March 30 and April 2 (which includes both April Fool's Day and Easter). We still don't know where exactly the satellite is going to come down, but we do know that New Jersey and New York are in one of the high-risk areas.
The Tiangong-1 satellite, launched on September 29, 2011, was China's first space station, and saw two manned missions during its lifetime—Shenzhou 9 and Shenzhou 10. It weighs about 19,000 pounds (9.5 tons) and consists of a service module and an orbital module, the latter of which was designed to hold astronauts and lab equipment. The station's potential impact zone spreads across about a third of the Earth, but there are two narrow bands near the top and bottom of the zone where the station has a higher likelihood of crashing.
According to astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, the majority of the station will probably burn up in the atmosphere, but there's still the chance that large pieces will get through: "There will be lumps of about 100kg or so, still enough to give you a nasty wallop if it hit you. It might take out someone's car, there will be a rain of a few pieces of metal, it might go through someone's roof, like if a flap fell off a plane, but it is not widespread damage."
According the Aerospace Corp, which has been tracking Tiangong, "No one knows where #Tiangong1 will reenter, but we do know odds of it harming someone are vanishingly small. Our scientists calculate odds of you being hit by Tiangong-1 debris are ~1mil times smaller than odds of winning Powerball jackpot—even if you live in 'high risk' areas."
If you're not a gambler, keep your eyes on our Tiangong coverage—we may only have a few hours warning before the station begins its final descent, but it will be within the next few days.