There's A Space Station Hurtling Toward Earth, But We Don't Know Where It's Going To Land

Diply 28 Mar 2018

We're just a few days from receiving a visitor from space. Tiangong-1, an unmanned Chinese prototype space station, was originally launched into near-Earth orbit back in 2011.

Now, thanks to orbital decay, Tiangong-1 is about to return to Earth. What we don't know is exactly where it's going to land.

The space station was the biggest effort by China to build its burgeoning space program.

Wikimedia Commons | Leebrandoncremer

The Tiangong-1 program seeks to put a large space station into orbit in 2023, so the 2011 launch of Tiangong-1 was basically a proof-of-concept to see if they could make it work.

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The station was in use for about five years.

Astronautix | Astronautix

Between its launch in 2011 and its official retirement in March of 2016, various manned spacecraft docked with Tiangong-1. Now that it's no longer operational, and without the aid of thrusters to keep it in orbit, Tiangong-1 will soon fall back to Earth.

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Now Tiangong-1 is set to make its return to Earth.

Twitter | @Fraunhofer_FHRe

We know it's coming soon, and we know that it won't land near either of our poles, but that's pretty much all we know about this space station's return to Earth.

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Tiangong-1 could re-enter our atmosphere as early as Thursday, March 29.

Twitter | @usatodayweather

It could also re-enter as late as April 4. Many people are picking April Fools' Day as the date of re-entry, but this gigantic space station is definitely no joke.

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In addition to the when, there's the (big) question of where.

Twitter | @Nick_Braker

When something in space re-enters our atmosphere, it's difficult to pin down exactly where on our planet it'll land.

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Why is it so tough to predict?

Twitter | @mcnienaber

Spacecraft orbit Earth at a crazy speed — Tiangong-1 orbits at 17,000 miles per hour, about ten times faster than a bullet. This means it's hard to know where exactly it'll land.

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We probably don't have anything to worry about.

Twitter | @G_Babayigit

Much of the station will burn up on re-entry, and there's more ocean out there than land, meaning it'll probably harmlessly fall into the water.

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If you do find space junk, don't touch it.

Spaceflight Insider | Spaceflight Insider

Although it's not likely to hit near anyone, this stuff is pretty toxic after its trip through the upper atmosphere. So if you find it, don't touch it!

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