China has been having issues with their space station since the late fall of 2017. Tiangong-1, the Chinese space station has been left with no reliable system to steer it in its orbit around Earth. Fears that it may return to earth in violent way may become founded in the near future. A crash is expected at some point, as Tiangong-1 is no longer under any type of control from any earth bound space program. The time of return is coming near, and is estimated to be sometime between late March and mid-April, 2018.
This knowledge has been gathered form concerned individuals at the European Space Agency (ESA). The estimates of return to earth are more in favor of a March return, and measures have been taken to retrieve images of the deteriorating Tiangong-1 as it makes it journey back to our planet. The known chemicals aboard the space station have raised concerns about how it could react when landing back on earth. Rocket fuel and other toxic chemicals are detrimental to the environment and safety of people. These fears have somewhat been alleviated by the understanding that the Tiangong-1 is likely to burn up as it passes through the Earth’s atmosphere.
The name of the space station translates to “Heavenly Palace”. Unfortunately, this is no longer an accurate description of the station. While there is hope than only small portions of the Tiangong-1 can survive the return through the atmosphere, some remnants are expected to make their way to the Earth’s surface. Scientists have been busy trying to narrow down the landing area, so that proper warnings can be given. At this time, it is thought that the pieces should arrive in the Northern hemisphere. This is a broad and estimated range, of course.
Specific countries are thought to be more susceptible to receiving pieces of the Tiangong-1. Northern parts of the United States, China, and Portugal are among the possible landing sites. Greece, Spain, and the Middle East are also areas that should be on the lookout. The remnants could easily be dispersed to more than one area, depending on the extent of damage done during re-entry. It has been stated that any notice of the space station parts should be avoided and reported. Toxic chemicals are a danger to human health. The pieces must be handled by professionals with proper safety equipment.
This incident has allowed for some excellent photography results. The Tiangong-1 has been photographed successfully by Gianluca Masi, an astronomer. He works for the Virtual Telescope Project, and saw this as a great phot opportunity. He managed to gain some images of the space stations as it made its way through some familiar constellations. The images have already made their way onto his company’s blog, The Virtual Telescope Project Blog. The blog pictures are accompanied by some interesting text on how the images were retrieved. The Tiangong-1 was perched above Rome, Italy at the time of the photographs. This incident is headed towards being another interesting part of space history and should come to a conclusion within a few weeks.