China's space station, Tiangong-1, is falling to Earth at a steady descending course, and authorities do not discount the possibility it will hit populated areas.
Tiangong-1 is first reported to have been out-of-control in 2016 after five years of orbiting the Earth. Today, scientists have predicted that Tiangong-1 is likely to hit the Earth's atmosphere between March 30 and April 6, although there is always the possibility of it changing its velocity.
Out-Of-Control Space Lab
As for the disposal tactic, ESA said that China initially plans on executing a controlled reentry, meaning that Tiangong-1 will be slowed down at a certain rate toward an unpopulated region in the South Pacific Ocean.
Unfortunately, since Tiangong-1 has been out-of-control for almost two years now, the controlled reentry plan is already impossible to do.
Fragments of different spacecraft hit the Earth's surface in the past, including that of the Russian satellite Kosmos 954. The radioactive Kosmos 954 crashed in Northern Canada in 1978.
A year later, pieces of America's Skylab showered over the Australian peninsula. NASA then estimated that there is one in 152 chances that a piece of the Skylab will hit a person.
Debris Falling From The Sky
While China's 19,000-pound space lab is on its course toward the Earth, speculations arise that the debris from the shuttle could hit human populations. A comprehensive blog entry by the European Space Agency (ESA) published on its website stated otherwise.
"The personal probability of being hit by a piece of debris from the Tiangong-1 is actually 10 million times smaller than the yearly chance of being hit by lightning," ESA wrote. "In the history of spaceflight, no casualties due to falling space debris have ever been confirmed."
Dr. William Ailor, an engineer at Aerospace Corporation, seconded ESA's claim that there is no need to worry about people being hit by falling debris. He explained that even before Tiangong-1 reaches land or water, a large portion of it will be burned up in the atmosphere.
Ailor estimated that 2,000 to 8,000 pounds of the shuttle's material will not reach the Earth's surface.
Meanwhile, Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist from Harvard, welcomes the possibility of human and property damage.
"Yes, there's a chance it will do damage. It might take out someone's car. There will be a rain of a few pieces of metal. It might go through someone's roof like if a flap fell off a plane, but it is not widespread damage," McDowell said in an interview.
However, experts said that as more space flights are conducted each year, humans should get used to a future of raining metals.