An out-of-control space laboratory is falling towards the Earth and will crash land soon, experts say.
The Chinese space station is accelerating its fall towards us and will reach the ground in the coming months, Harvard astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell told the Guardian. It is decaying quickly and he expects “expect it will come down a few months from now – late 2017 or early 2018”, he told the paper.
The Tiangong 1 station was launched in 2011 as one of the great hopes of the Chinese ambitions in space, and as part of a plan to show itself off as a global superpower. The country’s space agency referred to the station as the “Heavenly Palace” and conducted a range of missions, some of which included astronauts.
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But last year scientists at Chinese’s CNSA space agency said that they had lost control of the lab, and that it would now be heading towards Earth. That put an end to months of speculation, as experts watching the path of the station suggested that it had been behaving strangely.
And it also sparked immediate concerns that people on the ground could be at risk from the falling space debris.
It’s unlikely that anyone will be harmed by the crash, or that anyone would see it at all, since it’s most likely that the lab will drop into the sea. But it’s still possible that it would crash somewhere near people.
It’s very difficult to predict where it will fall because engineers have lost control of the capsule and it will be thrown around by the wind as it comes down. Even a slight push from the weather could send it from one continent to the next.
Much of the debris will burn up on its way into Earth’s atmosphere. But chunks as big as 100kg will make their way through and fall from the skies, said McDowell.
In the past, space junk has fallen within sight of people, and there have even been reports of injuries.