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Chinese Space Station Set To Crash This Weekend

Where is Tiangong-1? Photo: Aerospace.org
Where is Tiangong-1? Photo: Aerospace.org

A vacant Chinese space station is falling out of the sky this weekend but there’s little danger to anyone here on Earth.

China’s Tiangong-1 space station hasn’t had anyone on board since 2013 and the project was officially ended two years ago. Since then, the station’s orbit has been decaying.

Orbiting trackers predict the school bus-sized spacecraft will make a fiery reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere around April 1, but they don’t know where.

Despite the uncertainty, there’s no reason for concern. “There’s absolutely nothing to worry about," said Florida Tech's head of physics Dan Batcheldor. "Nobody in the history of humanity has been hit by anything falling from space.”

Embry Riddle's Terry Oswald, chair of Physical Sciences, agrees. "Your odds of getting hit by one of the pieces of debris are about one million times smaller than you getting hit by lightning."

Most of the station will burn up on re-entry and thhat could happen anywhere near the equator in an area that covers a third of the globe, which includes Florida. But pinpointing where that will happen exactly is difficult. “This thing isn’t a regular shape, so the forces acting on it are unpredictable." said Batcheldor. "It’s very much like a very irregular object moving through something like water.”

The re-entry will create streaks of light in the sky, much like a meteor shower. Organizations like NASA and Aerospace are keeping a close eye as it comes down.

Brendan Byrne is WMFE's Assistant News Director, managing the day-to-day operations of the WMFE newsroom, editing daily news stories, and managing WMFE's internship program.

Byrne also hosts WMFE's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration.
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