Tiangong-1 Spacecraft: Out-Of-Control Chinese Space Station May Slam Into European Countries Next Year
In 2016, China reported the loss of control over its space station, Tiangong-1. Experts forecast that the spacecraft's crash debris could hit several European countries.
Fall Of The 'Heavenly Palace'
In 2016, Chinese officials confirmed that they had lost control of Tiangong-1 or "heavenly palace," its 8.5-ton space station. Last October, experts surmised that the space station is on an out-of-control descent to Earth and may crash within the next few months.
According to experts from the European Space Agency (ESA), debris from the crash will possibly hit Spain, Bulgaria, Portugal, Italy, and Greece. By studying the geometry of the space station's orbit, they surmise that the crash debris will hit any spot within these locations. However, the date, time, and exact geography could only be predicted with large uncertainties.
"Owing to the geometry of the station's orbit, we can already exclude the possibility that any fragments will fall over any spot further north than 43ºN or further south than 43ºS," said Holger Krag of the ESA's Space Debris Office.
It's worth noting, and perhaps comforting, that in the history of spaceflight, ESA states that no one has ever been killed by falling debris from satellites or space stations.
The ESA is set to host an international test campaign to monitor the Chinese space station's re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere where most of Tiangong-1 is expected to burn up. The test campaign will be piloted by the Inter Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC), which is comprised of experts from 13 space agencies and organizations including NASA, ESA, JAXA, and the China National Space Administration.
The test campaign will be held in order for the experts to cross-verify, cross-analyze, and pool their predictions for the crash so as to improve the prediction accuracy of all the members. The ESA will host the event, just like they did for the previous 20 test campaigns since 1998.
— ESA Operations (@esaoperations) November 9, 2017
Tiangong-1 was launched by the China National Space Administration in 2011 and was called the "potential political image" of China. It was a part of the country's efforts to be a more competitive space superpower. It is 12-meters long with a launch mass of 8,506 kg. (18,753 lbs.), and has been unoccupied since 2013. It was a part of the Tiangong program which aims to build a modular space station by the year 2023.
China's space station currently has the larger Tiangong-2 in position, which is expected to be the only space station left once the International Space Station (ISS) retires in the year 2024.
China has its own space station, as it is not one of 15 nations running the ISS.