Current Affairs

Very slim chance of S’pore witnessing China space station crashing back to Earth


Out-of-control space station

Tiangong-1, which translates to “Heavenly Palace”, is China’s first prototype space station.

It was designed to serve as a manned laboratory and to test out orbital manoeuvre as well as docking capabilities.

This sounds like a pretty nondescript piece of information, except that China announced in September 2016 they have lost control of the space station and it is going to crash back to Earth pretty soon.

And there’s just the tiniest chance that Singapore may witness it re-entering the atmosphere.

Date and time of crash undetermined

While the exact date and location of the crash cannot be ascertained, researchers can provide a rough estimate of its crash location.

According to Newsweek, the event should occur some time between January or February 2018, in the area between latitudes 43ºN and 43ºS.

This is a pretty large area that includes Singapore, besides certain parts of Europe and the United States.

If visible, depending on the time of day and cloud visibility, the re-entry may appear as multiple bright streaks moving across the sky in the same direction.

Multiple bright streaks & toxic fragments

But good news: The space station should burn up upon re-entry into our atmosphere, due to atmospheric drag and aerodynamic heating (i.e. frictional force and converted heat from kinetic energy). This means that the object should disintegrate.

There has never been a casualty from falling space debris.

However, due to the space station’s massive size, measuring 10.3m by 3.4m, and weighing around 8,500kg, there will likely be surviving fragments landing within the estimated latitudes.

Another Newsweek article reports that such space debris will be “highly toxic and corrosive”, and advises the public not to touch it or inhale any vapours that it may emit.

But with large areas of water and uninhabited land on Earth, it is unlikely that the space station’s landing will cause major damage.

All images from CSME

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