China’s first space station is expected to come crashing down to Earth within weeks, but scientists have not been able to predict where the 8.5-tonne module will hit.
The US-funded Aerospace Corporation estimates Tiangong-1 will re-enter the atmosphere during the first week of April. The European Space Agency says the module will come down between 24 March and 19 April.
In 2016 China admitted it had lost control of Tiangong-1 and would be unable to perform a controlled re-entry. The statement from Aerospace said there was “a chance that a small amount of debris” from the module will survive re-entry and hit the Earth.
“If this should happen, any surviving debris would fall within a region that is a few hundred kilometres in size,” said Aerospace, a research organisation that advises government and private enterprise on space flight. Aerospace warned that the space station might be carrying a highly toxic and corrosive substance called hydrazine on board.
The report includes a map showing the module is expected to re-enter somewhere between 43° north and 43° south latitudes. The chances of re-entry are 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.
“It is only in the final week or so that we are going to be able to start speaking about it with more confidence,” he said. “I would guess that a few pieces will survive re-entry. But we will only know where they are going to land after the fact.”