The European Space Agency has stated that the 8.5-ton Tiangong-1 satellite could come barreling down onto a major city in early 2018. The space station, called the “Heavenly Palace,” is 12-meters long and is expected to crash through Earth’s atmosphere sometime between January and March, but exactly where it will land is still not fully known.
As reported by Fox News, the space station could hit “any spot” in the northern or southern hemispheres that falls between the latitudes 43°N and 43°S, putting cities like Beijing, Istanbul, Los Angeles, New York, Rome and Tokyo in the potential strike zone.
Holger Krag, the head of the Space Debris Office at the ESA, asserts, “We can already exclude the possibility that any fragments will fall over any spot further north than 43°N or further south than 43°S,” based on the “geometry of the station’s orbit.”
“This means that re-entry may take place over any spot on Earth between these latitudes.”
Krag stated, “The date, time and geography footprint of the re-entry can only be predicted with large uncertainties. Even shortly before re-entry, only a very large time and geographical window can be estimated.”
While the situation sounds dire, it’s important to note that, according to officials, no human has ever been killed by falling space debris.
Harvard University astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell echoes the sentiment expressed by Krag. Last year, he asserted, “You really can’t steer these things.”
“Even a couple of days before it re-enters, we probably won’t know better than six or seven hours, plus or minus, when it’s going to come down.”
The space station is expected to partially burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere, significantly reducing its size.
However, McDowell added, “There will be lumps of about 100kg [220 lbs.] or so, still enough to give you a nasty wallop if it hits you.”
Chinese space officials have expressed less concern about the space station’s descent. A spokesperson for the Chinese space agency stated, “Based on our calculation and analysis, most parts of the space lab will burn up during falling.”
China has invested heavily in their space program in recent years in a bid to catch up to US and European organizations. Along with building a space station, China aims to put an astronaut on the moon and intends to send an unmanned craft to Mars by 2020.