China’s Tiangong-1 space station is falling to Earth.
According to the most recent estimates from the European Space Agency (ESA), Tiangong-1 — which translates to “Heavenly Palace” — should fall back through the atmosphere, mostly burning up in the process, between March 30 and April
Trackers have been keeping a close eye on Tiangong-1’s whereabouts for a while now.
Earlier in the month, the ESA estimated that the space station would come down sometime between March 29 and April 9, but they’ve since refined those estimates.
It’s also still unclear where exactly Tiangong-1 will re-enter, because it’s orbit brings it over a large part of the Earth even during the refined time period.
However, it’s highly unlikely that the space station will fall through the atmosphere and end up on your head, or in your community.
First of all, the station will mostly burn up due to friction created when entering the atmosphere, leaving only relatively small, charred bits that can make it to the ground. The likelihood that those small bits fall on your head or even in a populated area is also very small if only because the Earth is huge and mostly made of water.
The space station is slated to orbit the Earth about 50 times from March 30 to April 2, so pinpointing exactly where it might fall is effectively impossible at this point, according to astronomer Jonathan McDowell.
In spite of ESA’s new calculations, estimates for when Tiangong-1 will come down still aren’t exact, and they probably won’t be until we get much closer to the re-entry.
“I think in 5 days or so I’ll start believing the forecasts a bit more,” McDowell said via email. “When the window gets down to 12 hours or so we can start ruling out some continents.”
Even ESA admits that it won’t be able to predict a specific time and place for the Tiangong-1 re-entry.
At this point, it’s just a game of wait and see.
Rumors about the space station started spreading in 2016, with people suggesting that Tiangong-1 was falling out of orbit.
Tiangong-1 was launched to space in 2011 and Chinese astronauts — called taikonauts — visited the station twice in its lifetime.
China’s Tiangong-2 station launched in 2016 as part of a plan to eventually build a large space station sometime in the 2020s.