Chinese space station to crash to Earth on 1 April

The Chinese space station Tiangong-1 is due to crash to Earth on 1 April 2018. The station is expected to break up during re-entry, though some pieces will remain.

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The Tiangong-1 Space Station was intended as a test-bed for the technology China would one day lead to the creation of a permanent space base
Credit: Chinese National Space Agency

This is no April Fools – there’s a space station due to crash to Earth on 1 April 2018.

But don’t worry, there’s not much likelihood it will cause any significant damage, and zero chance of it hitting the UK.

The China National Space Administration’s (CNSA) Tiangong-1 Space Station will finally re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere after it ceased functioning in 2016.

Several agencies and individuals have tracked the station’s descent to forecast exactly when the station will crash, but it is difficult to make an accurate prediction as it partly depends on the activity of the Sun and its effect on the upper atmosphere.

However, Tiangong-1 is now close enough to crashing that trajectory experts can predict the station will crash on 1 April, give or take a day and a half.

The exact location of the crash, however, is harder to foresee.

It will definitely fall between the latitudes of 42.8º North and 42.8º South – meaning those of us in the UK are well out of the crash-zone – with a much higher chance of hitting the extreme edges than at the equator.


Read more about China's space programme in BBC Sky at Night Magazine:


But even if you do live within the potential crash-zone, you don’t have to worry about a space station suddenly landing on your house this Sunday.

Tiangong-1 is only a small vessel, around the same size as the resupply craft sent to the International Space Station. These break up during re-entry leaving only small pieces which reach the ground, and it is almost certain the same will happen with Tiangong-1.

As most of the Earth is uninhabited, you are 10 million times more likely to be struck by lightning than a piece of the space station.

Tiangong-1 (meaning Heavenly Place 1) was China’s first foray into creating a long term human spaceflight base, but was only ever intended to be a technology test bed.

Two crewed missions visited the space station before it was decommissioned and eventually lost contact with Earth for reasons not disclosed by CNSA.

A second test station, Tiangong-2, was launched on 15 September 2016 and a fully-fledged permanent base is expected to follow in the coming years.


 

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