Half the world warned 'Chinese space station will fall on you'

Except you there in the UK: you've got no chance of catching Tiangong-1 debris

By Richard Chirgwin


If you read the New Zealand Herald, you're (a) probably a Kiwi, and (b) building a bunker because you expect a Chinese space station to drop on your head.

Or you could be a Newsweek reader, in which case you're digging bunkers because it's going to drop on your head, not some Kiwi's.

If you're in Western Australia, you're probably hoping to issue China's space agency with a littering fine (that's happened before).

Why? Because we still don't know where China's falling Tiangong-1 is going to hit – only that the re-entry band remains the same as was predicted in January by The Aerospace Corporation.

What's Chinese and crashing in flames? No, not its economy – its crocked space station


The highest-probability zones are also as they were in January: northern US states, a chunk of southern Europe into western Asia, China, and the two Koreas (great), or south of the equator, Argentina, Chile, Tasmania in Australia, or New Zealand.

That tells you that even though the retired space station is practically skimming the atmosphere, its ground track hasn't yet been impacted – and until that happens, there's no way to tell where it's going to hit.

It's altitude is another thing. As the chart below from the European Space Agency shows, Tiangong-1 has lost roughly one-fifth of the altitude recorded in January.

The European Space Agency suggests a “highly variable” re-entry window from 29 March to 9 April, and The Aerospace Corporation roughly agrees.

Tiangong-1 was a successful mission, given that it was operational for three years longer than its planned 2013 re-entry date. But China lost telemetry with the hulk in 2016 and like the rest of us has been trying to figure out where it will land ever since. ®

Sign up to our NewsletterGet IT in your inbox daily


More from The Register

European Space Agency wants in on quantum comms satellites

It's fun to kick entangled photons into spaaaace

European Space Agency squirts a code update at Mars Express orbiter

We can install a new OS from 150 million kilometres away, but Windows 10 1803 is delayed?

CIMON says: Say hello to your new AI pal-bot, space station 'nauts

Giant grinning cartoon-like Tamagotchi thing built by Airbus, IBM blasts up into orbit

European Space Agency slaps CC licences on its pics and vids

Space. The Final Frontier (for copyright). These are the free images and videos of the ESA

ViaSat hops into bed with European Space Agency in €68m deal

Cash stuffed into ground network for nippy broadband

Elon Musk's mighty erection fires sperm at orbiting space station

NASA mission's airy position: To check if extraterrestrial bonking will work as expected

Brit space agency test 'shop

Incredible Euro space agency data leak... just as planned: 1.7bn stars in our galaxy mapped

In 53 quadrillion miles, take the next exit right at V354 Cephei

Euro Space Agency probe begins search for guff gas on Mars

Do we mean methane? You're darn tootin'

UK space comes to an 'understanding' with Australia as Brexit looms

Countries agree to cooperate on satellite navigation as Blighty faces becoming a third country in Galileo