Tiangong-1 is surrounded by secrecy, so much so, scientists are unsure where and when the craft will re-enter the earth’s atmosphere. Currently the spacecraft is tracking above Australia, expecting to land somewhere in Australia but without more information it is hard to pinpoint the exact spot it will crash. Experts have weighed in on the matter, to help answer Australia’s burning question; will I be hit by space debris?
Dr Elia Aboutanios, Deputy Director of the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research at UNSW believes that the point of re-entry and final resting place cannot be predicted due to many complex environmental factors, including the sun’s activity.
“Also, the way the station will disintegrate upon re-entry cannot be ascertained because its make-up is unknown and is a matter of speculation,” Aboutanios explains.
“But what is certain is that the 8.5 tonnes Tiangong-1 will not survive its re-entry as it heats up and breaks apart. Most of it will be incinerated and will not reach the surface of the Earth. Also it is extremely unlikely that pieces of Tiangong-1 will land on populated areas, let alone cause injuries.”
Mr Markus Dolensky, technical director at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research and the University of Western Australia agrees that predicting the exact position of re-entry is impossible, but believes it will land “43 deg Northern and Southern latitude including Australia.”
Dolensky is not stressed about the potential for injury but sees the crash as a an opportunity for a spectacular light show:
“Night time and clear skies provided we may be in for a nice treat over the Easter holidays. Similar to Skylab in 1975, although only a tenth in size, we may potentially witness the end of Tiangong as a series of fireballs streaking across the sky.”
The infamous Skylab crash in 1975, resulted in an unusual and, strictly speaking, ongoing littering feud between the Park Service in Western Australia and NASA. After a piece of Skylab was left ‘littering’ the desert, a four hundred dollar fine was issued and has still not been paid by NASA to this day. There was little to no damage from the Skylab crash, so it is doubtful the Chinese space station will cause any damage to Southern Australia.
The experts insist that Australia has little to fear from a spacecraft crash-landing in your backyard, but if you happen to be in Southern Australia over Easter look to the skies to see the last of Tiangong- 1 burn up in our atmosphere.
Lead Image: The Australian Science Media