Chinese space station expected to crash to Earth any day now

2018-03-23 11:57
Chinese astronaut Liu Wang, left, tries to help his female colleague Liu Yang move forward as their commander Jing Haipeng waves in the orbiting Tiangong-1 lab module. (Beijing Aerospace Control Centre via Xinhua, AP, File)

Chinese astronaut Liu Wang, left, tries to help his female colleague Liu Yang move forward as their commander Jing Haipeng waves in the orbiting Tiangong-1 lab module. (Beijing Aerospace Control Centre via Xinhua, AP, File)

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Cape Town - There is a high likelihood that Chinese space lab, Tiangong-1 (Heavenly Palace 1), will crash to Earth in early April.

The space station, which was originally set to be decommissioned in 2013, according to Reuters, is in a degrading orbit that might lead it to an imminent crash on Earth.

According to satellite tracker, Satview, Tiangong-1 is expected to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere on April 3 at 09:11 GMT, though the precise location is unknown.

Satflare tracker says the object is travelling at an altitude of 221km, much lower than the International Space Station, which is usually at about 400km.

The space station is travelling at 27977.59km/h, at an elevation of -41°.

The South African National Space Agency (Sansa) is not actively tracking the object but said that, because SA is low risk for space debris, it advises the public not to panic.

"The agency is not tracking Tiangong-1 as the orbit for re-entry is not across our country. We remain alert to updates from our global partners on the re-entry as SA falls within the low probability area from space debris, thus there is no direct threat to our citizens," Sansa told News24.

At lower altitudes, satellites are subject to increasing resistance from the atmosphere which eventually means that they slow down and fall to Earth.

The size of Tiangong-1 means that it could break up and not completely burn up in the atmosphere.

Tiangong-1 currently orbits the Earth every 88.9 minutes and passes directly over mainland China, North Africa and South America in its orbit.

Tiangong-1 was launched in 2011 and officially went out of service in 2016.

A second Chinese space station, Tiangong-2 was launched in September 2016 as China flexes its technological muscle in a bid for Mars.

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