All you need to know about Chinese space station Tiangong-1 that came down over the South Pacific

By Prarthana Mitra 

The defunct Chinese space lab Tiangong-1 that had been hurtling towards Earth re-entered the planet’s atmosphere on Monday at around 08:15 am Beijing time, according to China’s Manned Space Agency. Most parts of Tiangong-1 were burned up in the re-entry process as the remaining debris landed over the South Pacific, added the report.

Tiangong in space

Tiangong-1, which roughly translates to ‘Heavenly Palace‘, was launched in 2011 as one of China’s first experimental space stations. After several manned missions, including Senzhou 9 and Senzhou 10, it remained unmanned since 2013 and without contact since 2016, which is when the Chinese terminated all data operations and relinquished control over the station.

The images considered the last of Tiangong 1 show it still intact. Credit: Twitter/@Fraunhofer_FHRe

According to research organisation Aerospace, China made an official statement in September 2016 and predicted the spacecraft’s re-entry into the atmosphere in the latter half of 2017.  China later updated its prediction via an announcement to the UN’s Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space in December 2017 and said the re-entry is expected “between the first 10 days of February and the last 10 days of March 2018.” Additionally, it was not mentioned whether the reentry was to be targeted or remain uncontrolled.”

Such a practice, frowned upon in the international space community, has been written off as a major blot on China’s space program.


Also Read: Defunct Chinese space lab expected to hit Wisconsin by end of March


Initial predictions vs Tiangong’s ultimate end

Tiangong’s uncontrolled descent, the first since its launch, has therefore been the cynosure of attention for space organisations and astrophysicists over the last few weeks, as they tried to predict the exact time and location for its crash. While The European Space Agency predicted the crash to occur sometime between March 30 and April 6, Aerospace narrowed the time of re-entry down to April 2. Southern states on the American Pacific coast like Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa were the likely impact zones, although the chances of it hitting someone were negligible.

Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics said in an interview with CNN, “It did exactly what it was expected to do; the predictions, at least the past 24 hours’ ones, were spot on; and as expected it fell somewhere empty and did no damage.”