Artist’s view of Tiangong space lab
Credit: CMSE

The United Arab Emirates Space Agency and the International Astronomical Center (IAC) have announced the organization of a joint campaign to monitor China’s Tiangong-1 space laboratory as it falls back to Earth. China orbited Tiangong-1 in late September 2011.

The nose dive of the 8.5 ton craft is expected to take place as early as next month in areas between 43 degrees north and south latitude, a track that includes most of the Arab region.

Credit: UAE Space Agency

“The UAE is well equipped and experienced with monitoring and determining the coordinates of space objects, meteors and meteorites,” said H.E. Dr. Eng. Mohammed Nasser Al Ahbabi, Director General of the UAE Space Agency. Many of those capabilities are resident within the UAE Meteor Monitoring and Filming Network, which was launched two years ago to support scientific research. Today, that network successfully provides reports and studies on meteor traffic over the UAE.

Sky-pointed cameras

The network consists of three different stations across the country to record astronomical events within UAE skies. Each Station consists of sky-pointed astronomical cameras located at several locations in the United Arab Emirates.

Credit: IAC

Each station has astronomical cameras directed towards the sky that automatically start recording once a meteor or a piece of space debris is detected.

Three years ago, the IAC set up an international program involving space enthusiasts from around the world to monitor the fall of satellites.

Four experts, including the IAC Director, a specialist from NASA on behalf of the United States, and two other specialist experts from Canada, supervise the program.

In a press statement, the UAE Space Agency said the “uncontrolled fall” will pose no danger to Earth and will not impact any of the populated areas. “Although there is a chance some debris may reach the ground, it will be falling into the sea and will not impact lives or human activities.”

Test campaign

Meanwhile, the European Space Agency (ESA) will serve as host and administrator of a test campaign regarding the reentry of China’s Tiangong-1, conducted by the Inter Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC).

The UAE Space Agency/International Astronomical Center are not part of the 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, Korea’s KARI, Russia’s Roscosmos and the China National Space Administration.

Main Control Room at ESA’s European Space Operations Center, Darmstadt, Germany.
Credit: ESA/P. Shlyaev, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Cross-verify, cross-analyze

IADC members will use the fall of Tiangong-1 to conduct their annual reentry test campaign, during which participants will pool their predictions of the time window, as well as their respective tracking datasets obtained from radar and other sources. The aim is to cross-verify, cross-analyze and improve the prediction accuracy for all members.

According to reentry experts at The Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies (CORDS), China’s Tiangong-1 is predicted to reenter in early April 2018, plus or minus 1.5 weeks, assuming an uncontrolled reentry (no thrusting).

This prediction was performed by The Aerospace Corporation on February 14.

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