Chinese Satellite Set to Fall From Space, Might Land in United States
Scientists say that sometime between Thursday and the middle of next week, the Chinese Tiangong-1 space station will fall out of they sky and make its way towards earth. While most of the 18,740 pound satellite will likely burn up in the atmosphere, between 10% and 40% of the station’s mass will likely land somewhere on the planet.
As of now, no one can be certain as to where the vessel will land, and even predictions within 24 hours of the satellite falling can be wildly off. A researcher at the Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies at the Aerospace Corp. in El Segundo, William Ailor, says debris could wind up thousands of miles away from predictions, even as it gets closer to the Earth’s surface.
Ailor urges folks to not get too worried, as the chances of injury from the falling Tiangong-1 are extremely small. For the last six decades of space travel, space debris hitting a person has only been reported once and there were no injuries involved. It might also comfort some folks to know that space debris falls from space on a regular basis. “At least once a month, something of reasonable size comes down,” says Ailor. “You just don’t normally hear about it because they come down in some remote place in the ocean.”
The Chinese satellite has not been communicated with since December 2015, according to Chinese officials. A malfunction on the power supply left it unusable, and since it is only about 300km from the surface, there is still a small amount of atmosphere that is dragging the satellite back to Earth. Ailor expects Chinese officials to attempt a controlled re-entry, though China has not expressed their intentions explicitly.