Products You May Like
The rogue space station is expected to descend towards the planet below sometime in April, but the exact path of its re-entry remains a mystery.
According to the US Aerospace Corporation, Tiangong-1 will crash land in April and the European Space Agency (ESA) estimates a crash been March 24 and April 19.
Scientists warned they cannot say for certain where the station will land in the coming weeks.
The abandoned module is currently tracking over the planet at an altitude of 150 miles, circling the globe at breakneck speeds of 18,000mph.
According to officials at the ESA Germany headquarters, the Tiangong-1 will likely re-enter the atmosphere between 43 degrees north and 43 degrees south, but areas outside this latitude cannot be excluded.
Holger Krag, head of ESA’s Space Debris Office, said in January: “Owing to the geometry of the orbit, we can already exclude the possibility that any fragments will fall over any spot further north than 43ºN or further south than 43ºS.
“This means that re-entry may take place over any spot on Earth between these latitudes, which includes several European countries, for example.
“The date, time and geographic footprint can only be predicted with large uncertainties. Even shortly before re-entry, only a very large time and geographical window can be estimated.”
The widespread re-entry point excludes a crash landing over the UK, but still covers vast swathes of Europe, North and South America, Africa and Australia.
The space agency underlined: “At no time will a precise time/location prediction from ESA be possible.”
The Tiangong-1, or Heavenly Palace, was last spotted streaking the night skies over France by astrophotographer Alain Figer in November 2017, who captured it as a faint white streak over the Hautes-Alpes region.
The defunct space station measures roughly 12m in length with a diameter of 3.3m and launch mass of more than eight tonnes.
However the station has been unoccupied since 2013 and the Chinese authorities lost all contact with the spacecraft in 2016.
The Tiangong-1 will most likely burn up during its fiery re-entry, but some experts pointed out bigger parts of the rocket could survive the journey to Earth.
Jonathan McDowell, a renowned astrophysicist from Harvard University, said parts of the rocket engine could very well rain down over the planet.
He said: “There will be lumps of about 100kg or so, still enough to give you a nasty wallop if it hit you.
“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.”
Chinese authorities stressed the space station’s descent poses no risk to the safety of the people below.
Zhu Congpeng, from the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, said: “We have been continuously monitoring Tiangong-1 and expect to allow it to fall within the first half of this year.
“It will burn up on entering the atmosphere and the remaining wreckage will fall into a designated area of the sea, without endangering the surface.”