China’s Space Station Tiangong-1 to Crash on Earth Around Easter: What Will Happen When it Strikes and Are we Safe?
Representational Image of a spaceship burning up (Photo credits: YouTube stills)

News has been going around for a few weeks about Tiangong-1, the Chinese Space station that has lost control and is now set to crash back into the Earth’s orbit. The crash has also caused fear among some people, not realising the intensity of the space mission and the effects of it. The exact details of when the crash would occur weren't known but space experts have now said it will be somewhere around the Easter long weekend, the window between March 30- April 1. The 8.5-tonne space module is likely to arrive in parts of Europe, US, Australia and New Zealand. A few days ago, a tweet also caused some fear about the possibilities of where it will crash. Let us clear everything about Tiangong-1 and if it dangerous.

What is Tiangong-1?

The satellite was China’s trial at building space stations, with an aim to become a space superpower. It was their version of making an International Space Station. But comparatively the Tiangong is 8.5-tonne craft. The original time for this mission was just two years but the time was extended. In 2016, the Chinese Manned Space Agency advised to the United Nations that the mission was complete.

How did Tiangong lose control?

There were rumours that it had lost control after the communication link with it was lost. The spacecraft had stopped responding to commands in 2016. It was actually planned to deorbit in September 2017 but it did not happen. There is no data link available but the trajectory is known for tracking it.

Why is it hard to predict the exact location of the crash?

The spacecraft is completing orbits everyday, flying slightly over the Earth’s surface in each orbit. It is also losing altitude. It is currently 227km above the Earth. It is being tracked by radar stations around the world and space engineers are working on tracing its path when it will enter the Earth’s atmosphere. The atmosphere is unpredictable at all times so where it will come down cannot be pinpointed. But according to experts tracking the station, it has the highest chance of crashing along a narrow strip around latitudes of 43 degrees north and south. This includes a number of highly populated cities including New York, Barcelona, Beijing, Chicago, Istanbul, Rome and Toronto.

What will happen when Tiangong-1 enters the Earth’s atmosphere?

The spacecraft will enter the atmosphere when it will be around 120km above our planet. The intense heat will start melting the craft and it will break apart. So the entire entering phase and turning to debris is about 15-10 minutes phase.

This has been explained by Dr William Ailor, a US space debris expert.

Can you see Tiangong-1?

You need to be really lucky if you could spot it turning into a fireball. It will appear like a meteor but a much smaller thing. It might be a bbeautiful sight but most likely you are going to miss it.

Is Tiangong-1 dangerous?

The doomed 8.5-tonne craft will burn on re-entry and the turned debris will not strike anyone. The chances are very less. The Aerospace Corporation has said, “When considering the worst-case location … the probability that a specific person (ie, you) will be struck by Tiangong-1 debris is about one million times smaller than the odds of winning the Powerball jackpot. In the history of spaceflight no known person has ever been harmed by reentering space debris. Only one person has ever been recorded as being hit by a piece of space debris and, fortunately, she was not injured.”

So the Tiangong-1 will re-enter and mostly burn off, not hitting any city. So put all your fears to rest.