World

China’s Tiangong-1 space lab set to hit Earth

Washington: China’s Tiangong-1 or “Heavenly Palace” space station is set to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere somewhere between March 31 and April 1, according to the latest update from the European Space Agency on Saturday.

The Chinese Manned Space Engineering Office, however, has placed the date of the re-entry of the 40-foot space lab a little later, between April 1 and April 2. Earlier estimates had put the date as late as April 4.

Scientists have underlined that the danger of Tiangong-1 being hit by falling debris is tiny, which as low as one in one trillion, as the structure is likely to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere during its re-entry, according to CNN.

“There is no need for people to worry about its re-entry into the atmosphere. It won’t crash to the Earth fiercely, as in sci-fi movie scenarios, but will look more like a shower of meteors,” an article by the China Manned Space Engineering Office published in its state media said.

In September 2011, China launched Tiangong-1, as a prototype for Beijing’s goal of establishing a permanent space station.

However, it told the United Nations last year that the space lab had “ceased functioning” in March 2016, without giving any reasons. In September 2016, China successfully launched Tiangong-2 space lab and was put into orbit.

As of Thursday, the Tiangong-1 space lab is orbiting the Earth at a height of 196.4 kilometres.

The re-entry latitude of the Tiangong-1 is expected to be within 43 degrees north and 43 degrees south of the equator, covering a stretch roughly from New York in the United States to Cape Town in South Africa. According to scientists, they are not specific about where the space lab would come down.

“Some parts of the upper atmosphere are thicker than others meaning the craft slows unpredictably and since it travels around the Earth in just 90 minutes even an uncertainty of a two minutes means the craft could fall anywhere along a 1,000 kilometer track,” Alan Duffy, a research fellow in the Center for Astrophysics and Supercomputing at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia said.

The technical director of the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research in Australia, Markus Dolensky, meanwhile said that witnesses who would see the descent of the Tiangong-1 could see “series of fireballs” streaking across the sky if there were no clouds present.

In 1979, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) first space station, Skylab fell to Earth during its re-entry to the atmosphere, burning up harmlessly in the process.

The last space lab to fall to Earth was Russia’s 135-ton Mir space lab in 2001. (ANI)