The European Space Agency warns that a Chinese space station will make an ‘uncontrolled re-entry’ early next year.
China’s first space station, Tiangong-1, has been out of control for over a year. Sometime between January and March 2018, the spacecraft will plummet to Earth. The ESA has a established a zone between two latitudes where a crash could occur.
Large amounts of debris are expected to break from the craft on re-entry, adding to the risk.
The Sun reports:
ESA experts said the 12-metre long craft would crash into Earth’s atmosphere at some point between January and March 2018.
The UK should be safe, according to ESA’s calculations, but New York, Los Angeles, Beijing, Rome, Istanbul and Tokyo are among major cities that could be at risk – although the potential impact area is so large that residents shouldn’t be too worried about impending death from above.
Holger Krag, head of ESA’s Space Debris Office, said: ““Owing to the geometry of the station’s 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.”
Could an out-of-control Chinese space station really crash into a major city in as little as three months?
The ESA is continuing to monitor Tiangong-1’s path, but the exact location of a wreck and the time it would occur is largely unpredictable.
If Tiangong-1 is on a collusion course with a heavily populated area, we can expect very little notice of the danger.
Miami, Dallas, Las Angeles, and New York are just some of the major US cities that could be in danger of falling debris. Several other mega cities around the world are also at risk.
According to Express, Krag believes that “Even shortly before re-entry, only a very large time and geographical window can be estimated.”
In September, 2016, Chinese officials announced that they’ve lost control of the space station. Just this month a Harvard astrophysicist claimed that the craft’s orbit is quickly decaying.
Unpredictable atmospheric conditions means that certain areas of the planet can be ruled out as a possible crash site, but a projection for re-entry on one continent could shift suddenly to another.
Furthermore, huge chunks of the space station could remain intact during reentry, posing huge threats to human life.
The Express reports:
Earlier this month, Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist from Harvard University, said the station’s orbit has been steadily decaying.
He warned: “Now that its perigee is below 300km and it is in denser atmosphere, the rate of decay is getting higher.
“I expect it will come down a few months from now – late 2017 or early 2018.”
Mr McDowell added a slight change in atmospheric conditions could nudge the landing site “from one continent to the next”.
It is feared chunks of the station weighing up to 100kg could hit Earth.
Meanwhile, despite warnings from international researchers with eyes on the sky, China dismisses any threat posed by their runaway space station.
The Express further reports that officials at China’s manned space engineering office insist that the craft will burn up completely as it reenters the Earth’s atmosphere.
Are Chinese scientists right that we have nothing to worry about? Or are they simply crossing their fingers and hoping for the best?
Let us know what you think, sound off in the comments below.