China’s out-of-control space station thankfully found a watery grave.
China’s out-of-control space station is finally resting in a watery grave, and thankfully it didn’t hit any humans as it fell back to Earth.
Tiangong-1, otherwise known as Heavenly Place 1, was China’s first prototype space station. It started orbiting Earth in September 2011 and Chinese astronauts first docked and boarded the station in June 2012. It remained fully operation for two years, with three manned missions carried out as well as the station acting as a laboratory.
Things went wrong in March 2016 when the China Manned Space Engineering Office announced Tiangong-1’s service had ended, but also that the telemetry link to the station had been lost. The truth was revealed a couple of months later: control had been lost.
After that, a crash landing back on Earth was inevitable, but nobody knew exactly when it would happen. Initial estimates predicted late 2017, then in October last year we were told it would be by April this year. That last prediction turned out to be correct.
NW of Tahiti – it managed to miss the ‘spacecraft graveyard’ which is further south! pic.twitter.com/Sj4e42O7Dc
— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) April 2, 2018
As The Verge reports, what was left of Tiangong-1 after re-entry crashed into the southern Pacific Ocean at 8:16pm ET on April 1. As it was traveling at 17,000mph, predicting exactly where it would land was extremely difficult. There was a very small chance it could hit a human, but thankfully it didn’t.
We don’t know how much of Tiangong-1 was left by the time it hit the water, we probably never will. What does remain is now slowly breaking down at the bottom of the sea.