Credit: The Aerospace Corporation

The Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies (CORDS) is sponsoring a “live on green event” guessing game. Entrants can compete for Aerospace swag with the closest estimate to the actual reentry date and time of China’s Tiangong-1 space lab.

Launched in late September of 2011, Tiangong-1’s uncontrolled reentry is currently predicted to be around mid-March of 2018 – plus or minus two weeks. This forecast was performed by The Aerospace Corporation on December 19, 2017.

Artist’s concept of the Tiangong-1 in Earth orbit.
Credit: CMSA

Crewed lab

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.

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.

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


There are two modules that compose Tiangong-1: A habitable experimental module and a resources module. It has a habitable volume of 15 cubic meters and is equipped with sleep stations for astronauts.

The space lab’s mass at launch was over 9 tons (18,740 pounds; 8,500 kilograms).

Tiangong-1’s length is 34 feet (10.5 meters) and sports a diameter of 11 feet (3.4 meters) It is outfitted with two solar panels that are roughly 7 meters by 3 meters.

Credit: CORDS

Where on Earth?

On March 21, 2016, an official Chinese statement declared that telemetry services with Tiangong-1 had ceased.

Based on The Aerospace Corporation’s analysis of Two-Line Element set data from the U.S. military’s Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC), the last orbital adjustment for Tiangong-1 was made in December 2015.

As to where on Earth Tiangong-1’s will reenter, that’s an unknown. But given the spacecraft’s inclination, this object will reenter somewhere between 43° North and 43° South latitudes.

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

Owing to the Chinese station’s mass and construction materials, there is a distinct possibility that some portions of Tiangong-1 will survive and reach the surface, according to an ESA statement.

Credit: CORDS


Given its size, and possible fragments reaching the Earth, are there hazardous materials on board?

According to The Aerospace Corporation’s CORDS: “Potentially, there may be a highly toxic and corrosive substance called hydrazine on board the spacecraft that could survive reentry. For your safety, do not touch any debris you may find on the ground nor inhale vapors it may emit.”

Working group

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.

“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.

Until November 26, Tiangong-1 had been orbiting at an average altitude of 184 miles (296.0 kilometers), circling Earth at an inclination of 42.65 degrees, explains the update.

Structural integrity

“Currently, it has maintained its structural integrity with stabilized attitude control,” the communiqué adds. “According to the latest forecast, its re-entry is expected between the first 10 days of February and the last 10 days of March 2018.”

Tiangong-1 uses methylhydrazine and dinitrogen tetroxide as its engine fuel.

“Based on analysis, the remaining small amount of fuel will be burned and destroyed along with its structural components during the course of re-entry and will therefore not cause any damage on the ground,” adds the communiqué. “China will continue to closely track and monitor the operation of Tiangong-1 and will regularly publish relevant information through the website of the China Manned Space Engineering Programme ( as well as other relevant Media,” concludes the notification.

Credit: CORDS

Win booty

To take part in the CORDS  “high stakes” guessing game, please note that you must be over the age of 13, and by submitting an entry you are signing up to receive other news and information from The Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, California.

Enter your information for a chance to win some Aerospace booty with the closest guess to the actual reentry date and time of China’s Tiangong-1.

Submit your guess by going to:

Background info

For more information on Tiangong-1’s reentry, please go to:

China’s Tiangong-1 Space Lab: Preparations for Uncontrolled Re-entry

International Campaign to Monitor Fall of China Space Lab

China’s Fall Guy – the “Heavenly Palace” Reentry

And for an older story of mine, back in June 2016, China’s Heavenly Palace – Headed for a Hellish Demise?, go to:


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