China space station headed toward Earth -- will it hit NYC?

Alan Olson
March 30, 2018

The Chinese have not released details of the space station's design, making it hard to calculate a more precise estimate.

The station, headed toward Earth, could be uncontrolled. Since then, estimates on when it will enter out atmosphere have been extended a few times.

China's own space program raised major concerns after it used a missile to destroy an out-of-service Chinese satellite in 2007, creating a large and potentially unsafe cloud of debris. The 8.5 ton Tiangong-1 "ceased functioning" on March 16, 2016, China told the United Nations in May 2017, without specifying why.

Nasa's 77-tonne Skylab space station came hurtling to Earth in an nearly completely uncontrolled descent in 1979, with some large pieces landing outside Perth in Western Australia.

In fact, in decades of space exploration there is only one recorded instance of a person being struck by space debris.

As of March 26, 2018, the station is expected to burn up sometime between Friday, March 30 and Tuesday, April 3. Areas above or below these latitudes can be excluded. Click on one of the dates for a star chart telling you where to look at that time. On Monday, it was at an altitude of about 210km, dropping more than 1.6km every day, and its descent is accelerating.

The chances of re-entry were slightly higher in northern China, the Middle East, central Italy, northern Spain and the northern states of the US, New Zealand, Tasmania, parts of South America and southern Africa.

The probability of impact is however low - only about 0.2%. Next, click on "Tiangong-1".

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The European Space Agency just updated its forecast for Tiangong-1's demise, pinpointing its fall anytime from this Friday to next Monday.

The ESA has a great FAQ on Tiangong-1 on its website. "The estimated reentry window is between 31 March and 2 April, Beijing time". A stream tracking Tiangong-1 has also been launched by The Virtual Telescope Project, but went down after posting for a time Wednesday. In 2016, the Chinese stopped receiving data from the station, which means they have no idea if adjustments or messages sent to the station are taking.

Naturally, one can not help but notice that these predictions vary and are subject to a margin of error.

More: A 9.4-ton space station is going to crash into Earth. A second-generation space station is also a single piece but with two docking ports, allowing for mid-mission resupplies and longer missions.

The projections have remained steady in recent days, with uncertainties shrinking.

The photo was taken as the station was at an altitude of around 220km, moving at 28,000km per hour.

Even much larger spacecraft have fallen without hurting people. However, as the ESA, CNSA, and other trackers have emphasized repeatedly, the odds of any debris making it to the surface is highly unlikely.

It's not uncommon for space debris, such as spent satellites and rocket stages, to fall to Earth although vessels that are capable of supporting human life are much rarer.

Other reports by GlobalViralNews

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