By LIAM SHEJI
One of China’s greatest space marvels, the Tiangong-1 space station, has met its fiery end by re-entering Earth’s atmosphere on April 1, breaking up over the Pacific. The exact location of the crash is still unknown.
At the size of a school bus, the 8.5-ton space lab has been unmanned since 2013 and lost contact with the Chinese in 2016, following an apparent malfunction that ended communications with the spacecraft. The Chinese have not publicly stated what this malfunction could have been.
The Chinese originally planned to use Tiangong-1’s thrusters to guide the spacecraft harmlessly into the ocean, but after the apparent communications malfunction the space station has gradually been dropping lower as it passes through the upper atmosphere. Scientists predicted the station would re-enter the atmosphere anytime between March 29 to April 2.
“With our current understanding of the dynamics of the upper atmosphere and Europe’s limited sensors, we are not able to make very precise predictions,” Holger Krag, head of the European Space Agency Space Debris Office, said in a statement. “The high speeds of returning satellites mean they can travel thousands of kilometers during that time window, and that makes it very hard to predict a precise location of reentry.”
According to CNN, China’s Manned Space Agency said the space station crashed into the Pacific Ocean at 8:16 p.m. ET on April 1, with most debris burning up in the re-entry process. While the exact location of the downed space station is unknown, it is most likely located north of an area known as “the spacecraft graveyard,” an area of the Pacific where most space agencies try to put space craft down into.
News coverage that surrounded the Tiangong-1 re-entry was unprecedented, only becoming big due to the chance of crashing on land. While no one has died from being hit by falling spacecraft debris, one woman in Tulsa, Okla., was struck on the shoulder by a piece of a rocket fuel tank, but was uninjured, in 1997.