China’s Tiangong-1, an eight-tonne space station launched in 2011, is expected to come crashing down to Earth in two to three weeks, The Economist has reported. China had reportedly lost control of the spacecraft in 2016, five years after it blasted into orbit making China the third nation to operate a space station.
The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Space Debris Office, based in Germany’s Darmstadt, has said that the space lab would fall back to Earth between 30 March and 6 April. According to the Aerospace Corporation, an American consultancy, re-entry of the spacecraft into Earth’s atmosphere is most likely on 3 April.
The spacecraft’s re-entry will take place between 43° north to 43° south. Vast stretches of North and South America, Asia, Africa, Australia, parts of Europe, and great swaths of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans fall in this zone. Space agencies around the world cannot be sure how much of the spacecraft will survive re-entry as China has not released details of the design and materials used to make Tiangong-1.
“To make any sensible statement about what will survive, we’d need to know what’s inside,” said ESA’s debris analyst Stijn Lemmens.
“But the only ones who know what’s onboard Tiangong-1, or even what it’s made of, are the Chinese space agency,” he added.
According to some accounts, the spacecraft may have well-protected titanium fuel tanks containing toxic hydrazine. If these fuel tanks land in populated areas, there could be some damage to life and property.
Although it poses some threat to life and property, the spacecraft’s uncontrolled re-entry will provide an opportunity to space agencies around the world to test new tracking models and equipment, including radar and optical telescopes.