China has confirmed that it cannot maintain control on its space station Tiangong-1. The station is likely to crash into the Earth in late 2017 or early 2018. However, reports have stated that the crash is unlikely to cause any harm to life.
Tiangong-1, was launched on October 1, 2011 from the Gobi Desert and was meant to establish a Chinese outpost in orbit.
Tiangong -1 which translates to “Heavenly Place” in Chinese weighs approximately 8.5 tons and is expected to break up into large pieces while still in space.
Thus the Earth can an expect impact from pieces which could weigh as much as 100kg each. Despite the frightening image of space debris, reports have stated that the chances of harm are minimal.
The Chinese authorities have committed themselves to monitoring the space station’s descent. They have also pledged to inform the United Nations when it begins its plunge towards the Earth.
A recent report in The Guardian stated that this descent has accelerated. However, it is not possible to predict the exact time or location that the debris will hit the Earth.
In the past, larger space stations have crashed into Earth without any major damage. These include the Russian Salyut 7 space station and NASA’s SkyLab.
The Russian space station weighed about 20 tons, making it slightly heavier than the Chinese Tiangong. However, NASA’s SkyLab was a Goliath coming in at a total of 77 tons. Thus, China’s Tiangong-1 is a mere speck in the larger history of spatial blunders.
However, China still has the chance to make its celestial mark with Tiangong-2. Tiangong-2 was launched on September 15, 2016 and is still in operation.
China also has plans to begin work on a new space station in 2019 and hopes to establish a permanent space presence by 2022.