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China’s Space Station Will Crash into Earth in Months

DOWN TO EARTH

What goes up must eventually come back down, and in this case it’s China’s first space station. The Tiangong-1 is expected to crash into Earth later this year.
The 8.5-tonne (9.4-ton) station, initially launched in 2011, hosted three missions during its time out in space, including a mission involving China’s first female astronauts, Liu Yang and Wang Yaping. It was never meant to function for more than two years, but continued use until 2016, when its data service was cut off. Several months later, China had reportedly lost control of the station, predicting the eventual impact with Earth “in the second half of 2017” would be harmless.
The Chinese space agency has stated that most of the station will burn up in the atmosphere, and the rest likely land in the ocean.

Artist's illustration of China's Tiangong-1 space station, expected to fall to Earth in late 2017.
Artist’s illustration of China’s Tiangong-1 space station, expected to fall to Earth in late 2017. (Image credit: Chinese Manned Space Engineering office)

However, Harvard astrophysicist and space enthusiast Jonathan McDowell told The Guardian it will be impossible to guess where the station would crash, even if it was a day before it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere.
“You really can’t steer these things,” he said last year. “Even a couple of days before it re-enters we probably won’t know better than six or seven hours, plus or minus, when it’s going to come down. Not knowing when it’s going to come down translates as not knowing where it’s going to come down.”

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