Debris from falling Chinese space station could land in southern MI

The Shenzhou-9 spacecraft and Tiangong-1 lab module in June 2012
The Shenzhou-9 spacecraft and Tiangong-1 lab module in June 2012

28 March, 2018

Although the odds are vanishingly small of a chunk of space station hitting you-The Aerospace Corporation estimates the odds of that happening are less than 1 in a trillion-should you find a piece of Tiangong-1 in your back yard, you shouldn't approach it, as it could contain toxic chemicals.

The European Space Agency just updated its forecast is for Tiangong-1's demise, pinpointing its fall anytime from this Friday to next Monday.

ESA is hosting a test campaign by the Inter Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee, an global governmental forum, during which participants pool their predictions of the time window for re-entry and related data they collect to improve the accuracy of future predictions. "It will mostly burn up due to the extreme heat generated by its high-speed passage through the atmosphere", it said in a statement.

China's prototype eight-tonne spacecraft Tiangong-1 is likely to crash on Earth this week or by the first week of April.

A Chinese space station the size of a school bus is expected to fall to Earth, and two-thirds of the planet are in the potential impact zone.

But the China National Space Administration has refuted the "hysteria", stressing that the remnants of Tiangong-1, if there are any, will only fall into the South Pacific, following the trajectory of the epic de-orbit of the Mir in 2001.

Angelo Borrelli, head of the Civil Protection Department, said: "We have very limited time windows and so, if the final analyses confirm the possibility that fragments of the satellite could hit our country, we need to give the public the clearest information possible". Now, scientists observing the space station to predict where it will crash.

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The Soviet military space station Salyut-2 remains, at 20.2 tons (18.3 metric tons), the largest human-created object to enter the atmosphere completely uncontrolled, after an accident sent it tumbling Earthward in 1973.

Following a meeting with the Italian Civil Protection Department, which prepares for and manages disasters, the ASI said Tiangong-1 could potentially crash around south-central Italy.

That date will likely be further refined throughout the next few days, but for now, April 1, plus or minus 2 days, is as good as the prediction is going to get.

Aerospace Corporation, a federally funded U.S. space-research organization, features a re-entry dashboardon its site, which presents a map of the lab's current position and orbit and predicted time to re-entry.

Launched in September 2011, Tiangong-1 an experimental had a design life of two years.

But even among controlled re-entries, the upcoming, uncontrolled descent of tiny Tiangong-1 will be a blip. Let us know if you see it!

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