Rome (AsiaNews) – It weighs about 8.5 tonnes and is 10 metres long and 8 metres wide. It is expected to fall on Earth between 27 March and 8 April, but no one knows where. It is Tiangong-1, the space station that China put in orbit in 2011 and which is now out of control.
The Chinese space agency “lost” it in 2016, five years after its launch had made China the third country, after the US and Russia, to have a space station in orbit. Now the spacecraft is at an altitude of 150 miles and its fall is being monitored by space agencies around the world.
Tiangong-1, or Heavenly Palace, is much smaller than the International Space Station (ISS) which weighs 400 tonnes, is the size of a football field and has the living space of a five-bedroom house.
Still, it will be one of the largest objects to enter the atmosphere without being steered towards a ocean, as is standard for big spacecrafts.
Many space agencies, in fact, perform controlled re-entries thanks to which spacecrafts fall into an area of the South Pacific known as the “spacecraft graveyard”. It is not known whether the Chinese space agency has performed such a risk assessment.
Nothing is known about how much of Tiangong-1 will survive the impact with the atmosphere because China has not released details of the design and materials used to make it.
The spacecraft’s orbit ranges from 43° north to 43° south, which includes vast stretches of North and South America, China, the Middle East, Africa, Australia, parts of Europe – and great swaths of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
Presented with the uncontrolled re-entry of Tiangong-1, 13 space agencies are using the event to test new tracking models and equipment, including radar, lasers and optical telescopes.
Over the coming days and weeks, the agencies will pool their data in a bid to sharpen their predictions of where and when the object will fall.