China's first and now defunct space lab, Tiangong-1, is expected to fall to Earth between March 31 and April 4 and its 8.5-ton main module should burn up during re-entry into the atmosphere, China's space authority said on Monday.
There are approximately 20,000 objects orbiting our Earth that have to be constantly tracked by the likes of ESA and NASA to make sure valuable space assets are safe from collisions with leftover space debris objects. The space shuttle didn't fly until April 1981, however, which kept that option off the table, according to Wired. In 1979, Time magazine wrote of the upcoming event: "Thus will be observed, after a series of miscalculations, the tenth anniversary of man's proudest achievement in space, the walk on the moon".
The Tiangong-1 station was launched in 2011 and hailed a "heavenly place" by the Chinese government, eager to join the space superpowers. The radar image of Tiangong-1 from different perspectives are terrifying.
It's fairly easy to tell where the station is, and its altitude, but there are specific factors that weigh against a more exact predition of when it will fall to Earth.
But the China National Space Administration has refuted the "hysteria", stressing that the remnants of Tiangong-1, if there are any, will only fall into the South Pacific, following the trajectory of the epic de-orbit of the Mir in 2001. "According to the calculations and analysis that have been carried out, most of the structural components of Tiangong-1 will be destroyed through burning during the course of its re-entry".
Thankfully the probability of impact is low - only about 0.2 percent.
It is not now confirmed whether notoriously secretive China has been able to maintain or re-establish links with Tiangong-1, which would let them fire engines at the last minute to avoid land collisions.
Tiangong-1 was the first space lab China put into orbit.
A United Nations agreement means any part of Tiangong-1 remains the property of China.
Speeding around our planet at about four miles per second, the uncrewed spacecraft is in a decaying orbit and out of control, tumbling through the uppermost reaches of the atmosphere.
In what could be a rerun of panic that the crash of Skylab had spread in the late 1970s, China's prototype space station Tiangong-1 is reportedly hurtling towards earth and could enter the atmosphere this week.
It assessed that it was most likely for the debris to fall within the extreme edges of the 43 degree bands, leaving the U.S., southern Europe and the Balkans as the most densely populated areas which could be hit.