An Out-Of-Control Chinese Space Lab Is Hurtling Towards Earth
Chinese officials appear to have admitted they lost control of the Tiangong-1, the country’s first space station.
A Chinese space lab, called Tiangong-1, is currently hurtling towards Earth and is expected to re-enter into our atmosphere sometime between now and early next year.
Tiangong-1 or “heavenly palace” was originally launched by China’s National Space Administration back in 2011.
The 12-metre lab, which weighs about 8.5 tonnes, was a major step towards the country’s goal of building a space station by 2020.
It was also where China’s first female astronaut, Liu Yang, flew on a mission in 2012.
But things went wrong when China lost control of the lab last year, and now they are playing a waiting game, trying to anticipate when and where it will fall to Earth.
Space archaeology expert Alice Gorman, from Flinders University, said while China will be able to monitor its descent, it won’t be able to control its landing.
In September 2016, China’s Xinhua news agency reported that Tiangong-1 was “intact and orbiting at an average height of 370 kilometres”.
Since then it has dropped about 60 kilometres, Dr Gorman said.
Dr Gorman said Tiangong-1 is travelling at high speed estimated at about 27,000 kilometres per hour and will burn up when it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere.
“When it hits the atmosphere it will start to slow down and heat up, due to friction and atmospheric compression. As it heats, it will break up into burning fragments,” she said.
Dr Gorman said its likely that some bits of Tiangong-1 will survive re-entry.
“Usually these are materials with the highest melting temperature and the most insulation,” she said.
“Generally titanium pressure vessels and stainless steel fuel tanks are the most common spacecraft component to survive re-entry.”
Dr Gorman said Tiangong-1 had steel alloy tanks, but an analysis of the materials suggested they would burn up long before they reached the ground.
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