Out-of-control spacecraft is going to CRASH into Earth but no one knows where

The spacecraft weighs 8.5 tonnes and could land anywhere

AN 8.5-tonne space station is out-of-control and about to crash into Earth within months but no one knows where it will land, according to experts.

The Chinese space lab Tiangong-1 or “Heavenly Palace” was launched in 2011 and was described as a “potent political symbol” of China.

But the Chinese space agency lost control of Tiangong-1 in September 2016 and now it is predicted to come crashing down to Earth within months.

Speaking to the Guardian, Harvard University’s Dr Jonathan McDowell said: “Now that its perigee is below 300km and it is in a denser atmosphere, the rate of decay is getting higher.”

“I expect it will come down a few months from now – late 2017 or early 2018.”

Although much of the craft is expected to burn up in the atmosphere, Dr McDowell says some parts might still weigh up to 100kg when they crash into Earth.

The station’s orbit has also been steadily decaying and it has begun to fall faster in recent weeks.

China told the UN in May that it would track the space station and vowed to issue warnings if there are any potentially imminent collisions.

But Dr McDowell said that predicting where it is going to come down is impossible even in the days ahead of its landing.

Dr McDowell said a slight change in atmospheric conditions could nudge the landing site “from one continent to the next”.

He said that there may only be hours of warning about where the spacecraft will land.

He added: “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.

“Not knowing when it’s going to come down translates as not knowing where it’s going to come down.”

Amateur satellite tracker Thomas Dorman said: “If I am right, China will wait until the last minute to let the world know it has a problem with their space station.

“It could be a real bad day if pieces of this came down in a populated area, but odds are it will land in the ocean or in an unpopulated area.”

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GETTY – China told the UN in May that it would track the space station
In a statement in 2014, officials from CMSE, said: “Tiangong-1 has obtained a great deal of application and science data, which is valuable in mineral resources investigation, ocean and forest application, hydrologic and ecological environment monitoring, land use, urban thermal environment monitoring and emergency disaster control.”

There have been many uncontrolled re-entries of larger spacecraft and none have caused any injuries to people.

In 1991 a 20-tonne Soviet space station called Salyut 7 crashed to Earth will still docked to another 20-tonne spacecraft called Cosmos 1686.

spacecraft - satellite
GETTY – A change in atmospheric conditions could nudge the landing site from one continent to the next
They broke up over Argentina and scattered debris over the town of Capitán Bermúdez.

A 77-tonne NASA space station called Skylab crashed in an uncontrolled descent in 1979 with some large pieces landing outside Perth in Western Australia. – Express

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