Africa is in the crash zone of falling Chinese space station


The space station is big and heavy, and China says that it's likely that a significant amount of debris will survive the friction inferno of reentry.

So, when an out-of-control Tiangong-1 - "heavenly palace" in Chinese - comes plummeting to Earth in a superheated trail of plasma and space debris, it may literally be an April Fool's joke.

The European Space Agency said: "Given the uncontrolled nature of this re-entry event, the zone over which fragments might fall stretches over a curve ellipsoid that is thousands of kilometres in length and tens of kilometres wide".

At around 19 tons each (17 metric tons), even the nose cones and prototype command modules of the early Apollo tests were bigger than Tiangong-1 when they de-orbited, uncontrolled, throughout the 1960s.

Tiangong-1 is now spinning around the atmosphere at a speed of about 28,160kmh, taking one trip around the planet every 90 minutes.

But the odds of the craft hitting anyone is very low, as much of it will disintegrate when it hits the Earth's atmosphere.

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Most of Tiangong-1 will break apart and burn up in Earth's atmosphere, but some of the space station's more solid pieces will probably survive re-entry, experts have said.

In January, Zhu Zongpeng, the chief designer of the space lab, told the state-run China Youth Daily newspaper that China had been monitoring the Tiangong-1. According to latest estimates, the parts of the lab that survive its return will crash into the ocean.

The satellite is expected to fall out of orbit between March 29 and April 4 and reenter the atmosphere somewhere between 43 degrees North and 43 degrees South, according to the Aerospace Corporation.

"Hence the personal probability of being hit by a piece of debris from the Tiangong-1 is actually 10 million times smaller than the yearly chance of being hit by lightning".

Meanwhile, ESA will serve as host and administrator of a test campaign regarding the re-entry of Tiangong-1, conducted by the Inter Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC).