Let’s play Chinese re-entry roulette as UN is warned about Tiangong-1 uncontrolled re-entry

by | May 23, 2017 | China, Launches

While the chance of being hit by space hardware is miniscule, large objects have been known to hit land. This famously happened after the faster than expected re-entry of NASA’s Skylab space station, which hit a mainly uninhabited part of Australia in 1979 before the Space Shuttle could reach it to attach a booster motor. Another “out of control” re-entry was that of the Russian Mir space station. However, in that case the debris fell harmlessly into the sea. Nevertheless before Mir’s re-entry, Russia’s space authorities took the precaution of appointing the aviation loss adjuster Airclaims, lest there were any insurance claims for third party damage if it had hit land. (Actually the Mir atmospheric entry was commanded but the final trajectory was uncertain until very late).

However, those space station re-entries are things of the past; now there is a new one to worry about. China has formally warned the United Nations that its no longer functioning Tiangong-1 mini space station is losing velocity and altitude due to atmospheric drag, and that it will make an uncontrolled re-entry either in late 2017 or in early 2018. The 8,506 kg (at launch) spacecraft, which was until recently in a 349 km altitude orbit, is losing this at a rate of 1 km per week. Given Tiangong-1’s orbital inclination of 42.8 degrees, it could theoretically hit any point on the globe between the latitudes of 42.8 degrees North and 42.8 degrees South.

Ground track of Tiangong-1. Courtesy: wikipedia





About Seradata

Seradata produce the renowned SpaceTrak Launch & Satellite Database. Trusted by 100 of the world’s leading Space organisations, SpaceTrak is a fully queryable database used for market analysis, failure/risk assessment, spectrum analysis and space situational awareness (SSA).

For more information go to www.seradata.com/spacetrak

Related Articles

China’s space station Tiangong-1 makes uncontrolled re-entry over Pacific

Those fearful of the miniscule risk of being hit by space debris from the re-entering Tiangong-1 had nothing to fear.The Read more

Analysis: Tiangong 1 is likely to re-enter with debris falling back to Earth next week

While other analysts have suggested it will last in orbit until April, Seradata's analysis is that Chinese mini-space station Tiangong 1 Read more

Shenzhou-10 undocks and redocks with Tiangong-1 mini-space station

On 23 June the Chinese Shenzhou 10 spacecraft carried out an undocking redocking exercise. The craft undocked from Tiangong minispace Read more

Shenzhou 10 docks with Tiangong 1 mini-space station and crew enter the cabin – Corrected

The Chinese manned spacecraft Shenzhou 10 docked with the Tiangong 1 minispace station two days after its launch on 11 Read more

Shenzhou 9’s docking mission success carrying China’s first space woman may make others rue wrong turns

China made further progress in its manned space programme. Not only did it make its first manned docking as its Read more

China’s Shenzhou 9 manned spacecraft undocks and redocks with Tiangong 1 to prove manual option

With all three crew aboard, at around 0318 GMT on 24 June, the Chinese manned Shenzhou 9 spacecraft undocked from Read more

Apollo and Skylab: Lunar Module was redesigned as a killer satellite says space expert

During a lecture at the British Interplanetary Society, London, in February, the space writer and former space engineer, Dr David Baker,  who Read more

Skylab cutaway, feature article and video

Hyperbola is a technology orientated spaceflight blog by Flight's technical reporter Rob Coppinger