China lost control of its space station and now it's falling back to Earth

Contributed by
Sep 21, 2016

Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s … Tiangong-1 space station, launched into low Earth orbit in 2011 and decommissioned in March 2016. And sometime in 2017, it will be headed to Earth. Uncontrolled. 

When satellites and space stations such as Skylab, Mir and the lesser-known Salyut and Almaz complete or fail their missions, they’re frequently de-orbited, that is, nudged into Earth’s atmosphere, where they will meet a fiery demise. (Other satellites are boosted away from Earth, where they become future debris/some Martian’s problem). Until then, someone on Earth is guiding the space station or satellite. 

But according to Space.com, Wu Ping, the deputy director of China’s Manned Space Engineering office, says that "Based on our calculation and analysis, most parts of the space lab will burn up during falling." But Space.com points out, "The update from Wu seems to confirm speculation that China is no longer in control of the 34-foot-long (10.3 meters) Tiangong-1.” 

I admit, that sounds a little disturbing. But in actuality, the news of an out-of-control space station seems worse than it is: Most space debris burns up in the atmosphere. According to NASA, the debris that does make it planetside is more likely to hit an ocean or a tundra than anyone’s house. Or head. 

Tiangong-1 was build as a proving ground (proving space?) for China’s planned space station. The Tiangong-2 was launched on Sept. 15.

Hopefully, the Chinese Manned Space Engineering office will keep keep its finger on a control button for Tiangong-2. We don’t want to go out like George Lass did on the late, lamented Dead Like Me.

(Via Popular Mechanics)

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