A new analysis from the European Space Agency (ESA) predicts that the station will reenter Earth's atmosphere between March 29 and April 9. ESA says the estimate is "highly variable," with a margin of error of about a week on either side. It's hard to know exactly when, but the station will imminently fall from the sky.
Knowing where the station will burn up is even trickier. The Chinese space laboratory circles the Earth many times per day, and it could fall "anywhere between 43ºN and 43ºS," according to ESA. However, given the station's orbital path, it is more likely to reenter the atmosphere near one of those 43º lines of latitude, either in the Northern Hemisphere or Southern Hemisphere. Parts of the United States, the Iberian Peninsula, China, the Middle East, South America, Australia, and New Zealand are all potential reentry locations.
It is possible that small pieces of the station survive the inferno of reentry and impact the surface of the planet. However, it is highly unlikely that anyone is struck by falling debris. The federally funded research and development center Aerospace estimates that a given person's chance of getting hit by a piece of the station is a million times less than the odds of winning the Powerball jackpot. Only one person in history is known to have been hit with a piece of spacecraft debris, and she was not injured by the small object.
Tiangong-1 was launched by China in September 2011. The orbiting laboratory and experimental space station was used multiple times to test spacecraft docking hardware and capabilities. Chinese astronauts visited Tiangong-1 twice in Shenzhou spacecraft in 2012 and 2013. The country's space program has since launched another space laboratory, Tiangong-2, in preparation for a larger space station that China hopes to complete in the early 2020s. The new large modular space station would be about one fifth of the size of the International Space Station, roughly the size of the Russian Mir space station, which reentered Earth's atmosphere in March 2001.
All should be well and safe when Tiangong-1 comes plummeting down from the heavens to incinerate in the atmosphere, but the station should put on a fiery show when it does. If you are really lucky, you just might just find a piece of the space station after it falls out of the sky.
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