CASC - Tiangong-1 Mission patch.
April 2, 2018
The Chinese space station Tiangong-1 returned to the atmosphere Monday morning over the Pacific before burning.
More fear than harm: The Chinese space station Tiangong-1 disintegrated Monday in full flight as it returned to Earth over the Pacific, after two years of uncontrolled evolution into orbit.
Radar images of China’s Tiangong-1 space station. Image Credit: Fraunhofer FHR
After several days of uncertainty, the space laboratory made its return to the atmosphere Monday around 00:15 GMT, announced the CMSEO, the Chinese office responsible for the design of human spaceflight. The state agency did not provide the exact coordinates of the point of fall, referring only to "the central part of the South Pacific".
"Most of the equipment was destroyed during the re-entry phase," said the CMSEO.
The spacecraft, in uncontrolled flight since 2016, returned to Earth a little earlier than expected: the CMSEO had previously announced that the re-entry into the atmosphere would be around 00:42 GMT, which would have located above of the South Atlantic, off the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo.
ESA's atmospheric re-entry diagram. Graphic Credit: ESA
The abandoned space station weighed about eight tons but was not supposed to cause damage by falling, had sought to reassure China in recent days. Beijing had even promised a "splendid" show, similar to a meteor shower.
"Fun to see"
But over the Pacific, it seemed unlikely that anyone could witness the scene with the naked eye. Before returning to the ground, the spacecraft flew over North Korea and Japan, where it was already daylight, further reducing the likelihood of being seen from the ground, Astronomer Jonathan McDowell told AFP. of the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Center in the United States.
"It would have been fun to see," he said. "On the bright side, it did not cause damage by falling."
The United States has confirmed the return of the aircraft to the Pacific, however, suggesting a one-minute delay (00:16 GMT) compared to the Chinese assessment, according to the Joint Force Space Component Command (JFSCC), whose network radar tracked the trajectory of the spacecraft in coordination with several countries (Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, United Kingdom).
The space laboratory was placed in orbit in September 2011. It should have made a controlled return to Earth's atmosphere, but stopped working in March 2016.
Animation above: Fragmentation of the Jules Verne ESA's ATV during his atmospheric re-entry. Animation Credit: ESA.
According to the European Space Agency (ESA), Chinese ground engineers were no longer able to operate the engines that would have controlled the fall of the machine. But Beijing has repeatedly refuted that the Tiangong-1 has become "uncontrollable".
"The foreign media are highlighting the re-entry (into the atmosphere) of Tiangong-1 (...) because some Western countries are trying to cover the mud a Chinese aerospace industry in full growth," denounced Monday the language newspaper English Global Times, often nationalistic tone.
One risk on 700 million
The risk for a human being to be hit by space debris of more than 200 grams is one in 700 million, the CMSEO said. "People have no reason to worry," he said.
Tiangong-1, or "Heavenly Palace", has been used for medical experiments. The laboratory was also considered a preliminary step in the construction of a Chinese space station.
Tiangong-1. Image Credit: CASC
China has invested billions of euros in the space conquest to try to catch up with Europe and the United States. Coordinated by the army, it is perceived as a symbol of the new power of the country.
Beijing aims to send a spacecraft around Mars by 2020, before deploying an unmanned vehicle on the red planet.
China also wants to deploy an inhabited space station by 2022, when the International Space Station (ISS) has ceased to function. China also dreams of sending a man to the moon.
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Inter Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC): http://www.iadc-online.org/
ESA's Space Debris Office: http://www.esa.int/spacedebris
Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques FHR: https://www.fhr.fraunhofer.de/en.html
Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: AFP/Orbiter.ch Aerospace/Roland Berga.