Chinese Space Station Heading Back To Earth

The Chinese space station,  TIANGONG-1 or “Heavenly Palace” is headed back to earth with re-entry likely happening tomorrow afternoon.

Its re-entry, unlike most, is uncontrolled as the space station became unresponsive in March, 2016. The latest forecasts remain highly variable but are centred in a window around 16:25 PDT on April 1st. This is later than originally predicted with the delay attributed to low solar activity, which has allowed Earth’s upper atmosphere to cool and shrink away from Tiangong-1 – less air  means less aerodynamic friction and a slower decay. Check here for updates.

Most of the 8.5 tonne spacecraft will burn up in the atmosphere with 1.5 to 3.5 tonnes expected to impact the earth. The impact zone is from 43° North latitude to 43° south latitude and it is likely come down in an ocean rather than over land. So that excludes BC and most of Canada. Impact debris is typically heat resistant metal objects such as fuel tanks.

TIANGONG-1 is about the size of bus. It is much smaller than the 74 tonne Skylab space station that had an uncontrolled re-entry in 1979. Still, it would be a spectacular sight if you happen to be in the right place at the right time to see it. It will be visible even in daylight and will appear as a slow moving shooting star or fireball,  a smoke trail might even be visible.