An 8.5-ton Chinese space station is falling uncontrollably toward Earth. It is expected to plunge in the coming months. Although it is expected that part of the laboratory will ignite and disintegrate, some of the pieces that will reach the surface of the planet can weigh more than 100 kg. The news is advanced this Friday by The Guardian, who quotes experts stating that it is impossible to predict where the wreck will fall – not even in the days immediately preceding the collision.
The Tiangong-1 station, also known as the “Heavenly Palace”, was launched in 2011 because China wanted to have a space laboratory that was also a “potent political symbol”. The move was part of an ambitious scientific program aimed at make China a spatial superpower.
They have passed through the Chinese “Celestial Palace” in the last 5 years, both manned and unmanned missions. One of which, held in 2012, was Liu Yang, China’s first astronaut woman.
After months of speculation about possible problems on board last year in 2016, Chinese officials admitted they had lost control of the space station and that it would collide with Earth. According to the notification sent by the Chinese space agency to the United Nations, the wreck of the “Celestial Palace” is expected to collide with Earth between October and April 2018.
Since 2016, the orbit of the space station has fallen, and in recent weeks has reached the most compact layers of the Earth’s atmosphere, which has further increased the acceleration of the descent.
“Now that the perigee [the highest point of the station’s path]is already less than 300km high and has hit the denser layers of the atmosphere, the pace of the fall is increasing,” he told Guardian, Harvard astrophysicist, Jonathan McDowell.
“It is expected to be staged within a few months, in late 2017 or early 2018”, he added.
The likelihood of wreckage injuring someone is considered remote, but it is also impossible to predict where it will fall. “You cannot, at all, direct the route of such a thing”, McDowel said. “Even if there is only one or two days left to re-enter the station in the atmosphere, it is likely that we cannot do better than to calculate the moment of impact with a margin of six or seven hours away, more or less. not knowing when it will fall translates into not knowing where it will fall”, concluded the astrophysicist.
According to McDowell, a slight change in atmospheric conditions may push the wreckage of the station “from one continent to another”.
In China this year, China has informed the United Nations that it will keep a careful monitoring of the descent of the ship and that it will inform the UN when it starts its final dive.