China's out-of-control space station to soon crash into Earth
China's out-of-control space station, Tiangong-1, is scheduled to re-enter Earth between March 31 and April 1.
The space lab, with a length of 10m and weight of more than 8 tonnes, is larger than most of the man-made objects that routinely re-enter Earth's atmosphere. Since China has lost all communication with the spaceship, its descent will be uncontrolled.
How much damage will it cause?
According to experts, most parts of the spaceship will burn up on re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere and hence, there is a very low risk of any part hitting a populated area.
According to UK Space Agency's chief engineer Richard Crowther, "the majority of Tiangong-1can be expected to burn up during re-entry heating, with the greatest probability being that any surviving fragments will fall into the sea.”
• The space station was launched by China in September 2011 to test docking systems and other technology needed for an even larger, multi-module space station to be built in the 2020s.
• The station was visited by China's unmanned Shenzhou-8 spacecraft in November 2011 and two crewed missions, one each in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
• The space station was supposed to have been de-orbited in a planned manner. The intention was to use its thrusters to drive the vehicle towards a remote zone over the Southern Ocean.
• However, all command links with the space lab were abruptly lost in March 2016, leading the China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO) to declare its mission over.
• Since then, thirteen space agencies, under the leadership of the European Space Agency, were following Tiangong's path around the globe, modelling its behaviour as it descended deeper into the atmosphere.