The Tiangong-1 space station has been hopelessly adrift since the Chinese space agency lost control of the prototype lab in 2016. Photograph: Courtesy of CMSE
30 Mar 2018

The Chinese space lab could crash as early as this weekend - "probably in Europe"

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Photo: The Tiangong-1 space station has been hopelessly adrift since the Chinese space agency lost control of the prototype lab in 2016. Photograph: Courtesy of CMSE

Video: (Sky News) The falling Chinese space station Tiangong-1 is tumbling in orbit and may crash back to Earth early Easter Sunday (April 1), experts say.

The Chinese space lab, Tiangong-1,  is about to drift from the sky. The crash landing is expected to take place between March 29 and April 9, and Spain, Portugal, France or Greece are identified as potential crash site.

From the moment it was lost, scientists around the world began plugging information on the stricken craft into computer models to predict how its final act would play out.

On Friday, the European Space Agency said that the unoccupied wreckage would crash back to Earth between Saturday night and Sunday evening UK time, reports The Guardian.

"The likelihood that a person is hit is 10 million times less than the annual risk of being hit by the flash," the organization ESA writes.

The Tiangong-1 space station is China's first and has been in orbit since 2011, but the fuel is running out and it has now played its part.

In September 2016, Chinese authorities announced that they had "lost control" over the station,  and that it was therefor heading back to earth.

Exactly when and where to expect the touchdown has been a mystery, but according to the latest estimate of the ESA European Space Agency, the Chinese space station - big as a bus - will descend from the sky between March 29 and April 9, The Washington Post states.

 

Weighs just over nine tons

The station will travel through the atmosphere at a speed of seven kilometers per second, and the crash site has previously been unknown - until now.

Although the nine ton space station is expected to break up in to pieces in the atmosphere, large parts of it can be expected to continue to earth - more precisely, to land in Spain, Portugal, France or Greece.

Please observe that the calculation is preliminary and therefore uncertain, states ESA.

"It's impossible for us to give a precise time or place," says the agency.

 

Only one person has been struck before

According to ESA, parts can also land 43 degrees to either side of the equator - between Canada and southern Europe in the north and south Africa and south-east Australia.

ESA points out that large parts of the area where parts can fall down consists of sea and that only one person has been struck by falling parts over the years.

That person also managed to get away without any injuries, ESA writes on their site.

"Hence, the likelihood of being personally hit by a part of Tiangong-1 in reality is 10 million times less than the annual risk of being hit by a lighting flash," the organization concludes.

 

"Can not control this"

However, Jonathan McDowell, astrophysicist at Harvard University, explains that parts weighing as much as 100 kilos can reach the ground and that minimal changes in the atmosphere can change the landing "from one continent to another".

- You really can not control these things. The days before we will probably not know more than we will know only  6 - 7 hours before. Not knowing when it will land means that we do not know where, says McDowell.