This weekend, China’s Tiangong-1 will be making its fiery descent on Earth.
Measuring in at over 10m in length and weighing in at 8 tonnes, the Tiangong-1 is larger than most man-made objects that routinely drop to Earth. China has lost all communication with the satellite and its descent will be uncontrolled.
While most of the module will be burnt up when re-entering the atmosphere, there is a very low-risk chance that some of the unburnt debris may end up hitting populated areas, experts warned.
“Given Tiangong-1 has a larger mass and is more robust, as it is pressurised, than many other space objects that return uncontrolled to Earth from space, it is the subject of a number of radar tracking campaigns,” explained Richard Crowther, the UK Space Agency’s chief engineer.
Launched in 2011 and visited by six Chinese astronauts, Tiangong was supposed to have been de-orbited in a planned manner.
The intention was to use its thrusters to drive the vehicle towards a remote zone over the Southern Ocean. But all command links were abruptly lost in 2016, and now nothing can be done to direct the fall.
Looks like the old maxim of what goes up must come down fits this incoming scenario very nicely.