It’s spring and as we look forward to the April showers to bring May flowers, there’s something else that’s going to be falling from the sky soon… a space station! It’s China’s first space station, Tiangong-1, or in English, “Heavenly Palace.” It was launched on Sept. 30, 2011, and while it’s guaranteed to re-enter the atmosphere, even if some of its debris survives re-entry, it’ll probably land in the ocean.
Tiangong-1 is the prototype for China’s space program and at launch, weighed 18,740 pounds. It’s 34 feet long and 11 feet in diameter, and has solar panels on either side. It was designed to be a livable lab for docking and orbital experiments and to eventually become a larger space station with multiple-modules. But, on March 16, 2016, China reported to the United Nations that they had lost telemetry services and couldn’t control the station any longer.
The Aerospace Corporation tells us that as it has been for a while, Tiangong-1 remains on a decaying orbit. That means as its altitude slowly decreases, its descent toward Earth rapidly increases and when the station reaches Earth’s upper atmosphere, shortly, the space station will make an uncontrolled reentry.
And the European Space Agency says the current estimated reentry window is anytime from midday Saturday, to early Sunday afternoon UTC time, but it’s still highly variable.
When it finally comes in, one thing is certain, if you’re lucky enough to be able to see it, the light show should be spectacular. Be aware that just in case, IF any Tiangong-1 debris makes it to the ground, it might be carrying or be made up of very toxic materials and experts advise against touching any space debris or breathing in any vapors it may release. So keep up with the updates and be ready to look up for a rare chance to see sparkling fire in the sky.
For WeatherNation – John Van Pelt.
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