As it fell to Earth, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 disintegrated over the Pacific on Monday 2nd April. There was no damage.
The Chinese space station Tiangong-1 disintegrated Monday in full flight as it returned to the Earth over the Pacific, after two years of uncontrolled evolution into orbit.
US air force confirms #Tiangong1 reentry this morning at ~02:16 CEST over the Pacific – not too far from the uninhabited area that is typically used for controlled reentries. This time well within ESA’s final forecast windows https://t.co/OzZLoYnlc4
— ESA Operations (@esaoperations) 2 April 2018
After several days of uncertainty, the space laboratory made its return to the atmosphere Monday around 00H15 GMT, announced the CMSEO, the Chinese office responsible for the design of human spaceflight. The state agency did not provide the exact coordinates of the point of fall, referring only to “the central part of the South Pacific”.
“Most of the equipment was destroyed during the re-entry phase.”
The machine, in uncontrolled flight since 2016, returned to Earth a little earlier than expected: the CMSEO had previously announced that the re-entry into the atmosphere would be around 00H42 GMT, which would have located above of the South Atlantic, off the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo.
The abandoned space station weighed about eight tons but was not supposed to cause any damage by falling, had sought to reassure China in recent days. Beijing had even promised a “splendid” show, similar to a meteor shower.
“Fun to see”
But over the Pacific, it seemed unlikely that anyone could witness the scene with the naked eye. Before returning to the ground, the spacecraft flew over North Korea and Japan, where it was already daylight, further reducing the likelihood of being seen from the ground, Astronomer Jonathan McDowell told AFP. of the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Center in the United States.
“It would have been fun to see,” he said.
“On the bright side, it did not cause damage by falling.”
The United States has confirmed the return of the aircraft to the Pacific, however, suggesting a one-minute delay (0016 GMT) compared to the Chinese assessment, according to the Joint Force Space Component Command (JFSCC), whose network radar tracked the trajectory of the craft in coordination with several countries (Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, United Kingdom).
The space laboratory was placed in orbit in September 2011. It should have made a controlled return to Earth’s atmosphere, but stopped working in March 2016.
According to the European Space Agency (ESA), Chinese engineers on the ground were no longer able to operate the engines that would have controlled the fall of the machine. But Beijing has repeatedly refuted that the Tiangong-1 has become “uncontrollable”.
“The foreign media are highlighting the re-entry (into the atmosphere) of Tiangong-1 (…) because some Western countries are trying to cover mud a Chinese aerospace industry in full growth,” denounced Monday the English-language daily Global Times , often nationalistic tone.
A risk on 700 million
The risk for a human being to be hit by space debris of more than 200 grams is one in 700 million, the CMSE said. “People have no reason to worry,” he said.
Tiangong-1, or “Heavenly Palace”, has been used for medical experiments. The laboratory was also considered a preliminary step in the construction of a Chinese space station.
China has invested billions of euros in the space conquest to try to catch up with Europe and the United States. Coordinated by the army, it is perceived as a symbol of the new power of the country.
Beijing aims to send a spacecraft around Mars by 2020, before deploying an unmanned vehicle on the red planet.
The Asian giant also wants to deploy an inhabited space station by 2022, when the International Space Station (ISS) has ceased to function. Another laboratory, Tiangong-2, was launched for this purpose in September 2016. China also dreams of sending a man to the moon.