Artist’s view of Tiangong space lab
Credit: CMSE

A new reentry time window forecast for the fall of China’s Tiangong-1 space lab has been provided by the Space Debris Office at the European Space Agency’s ESOC mission control centre, Darmstadt, Germany.

The current estimated window is now roughly March 25 to approximately April 17, with the caveat “this is highly variable.”

Credit: ESA

Reentry will take place anywhere between 43 degrees North and 43 degrees South (e.g. Spain, France, Portugal, Greece, etc.), according to the European Space Agency (ESA) Space Debris Office.

“Areas outside of these latitudes can be excluded. At no time will a precise time/location prediction from ESA be possible,” the update explains.

Heavenly palace

Tiangong-1 is the first space station built and launched by China. It was designed to be a crewed lab as well as an experiment/demonstration for the larger, multiple-module space station.Tiangong-1 (whose name means “Heavenly Palace” in Chinese) was rocketed into Earth orbit in late September 2011.

Credit: ESA

The first Chinese orbital docking occurred between Tiangong-1 and an unpiloted Shenzhou spacecraft on November 2, 2011. Two piloted missions were completed to visit Tiangong-1: Shenzhou 9 in June 2012 and Shenzhou 10 in June 2013.

International campaign

Experts at the European Space Agency (ESA) are hosting an international campaign to monitor the reentry of the Tiangong-1, conducted by the Inter Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC).

IADC comprises space debris and other experts from 13 space agencies/organizations, including NASA, ESA, European national space agencies, Japan’s JAXA, India’s ISRO, the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), Russia’s Roscosmos, as well as the China National Space Administration.

Owing to the Chinese station’s 18,740 pounds (8,500 kilograms) and construction materials, there is a distinct possibility that some portions of the Tiangong-1 will survive and reach the surface, according to a previous ESA statement.

Docking of China’s Shenzhou 10 spacecraft with the Tiangong-1 space station June 13, 2013.
Credit: CCTV

Emergency preparedness plans

In a December 8 communiqué from the Permanent Mission of China to the United Nations (Vienna), China has made note of the upcoming re-entry into the atmosphere of Tiangong-1.

“Currently, it [Tiangong-1] has maintained its structural integrity with stabilized attitude control,” notes the communiqué.

“China attaches great importance to the re-entry of Tiangong-1. For this purpose, China has set up a special working group, made relevant emergency preparedness plans and been working closely with its follow-up tracking, monitoring, forecasting and relevant analyzing,” the communiqué explains.

 

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