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    Heads up: an out-of-control Chinese space station could crash into Earth this weekend
    Heads up: an out-of-control Chinese space station could crash into Earth this weekend
    SCIENCE

    Heads up: an out-of-control Chinese space station could crash into Earth this weekend

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    by
    Alan Wong
    Alan Wong
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    This is not a drill, or a premature April Fool’s stunt.

    China's first space station, Tiangong-1, is expected to crash to Earth as soon as Saturday, the country’s space authorities said.

    Tiangong means “Heavenly Palace.” 

    The out-of-control spacecraft will make re-entry into the atmosphere between March 31 and April 4, according to a statement from the China Manned Space Engineering Office on Monday.

    China's Tiangong-1 was launched on September 29, 2011
    China's Tiangong-1 was launched on September 29, 2011 Photo: AFP
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    The ETA was based on an analysis by the Beijing Aerospace Flight Control Center and other professional organizations, according to the Chinese statement.

    The European Space Agency has a slightly earlier and narrower window, between March 30 and April 2, though it notes that it's “highly variable.”

    None of the space agencies knows exactly where the spacecraft will come down, something that will become clear as the day – and the spacecraft – approaches.

    The Shenzhou-9 spacecraft (approaching) prepares to dock with Tiangong-1 in 2012.
    The Shenzhou-9 spacecraft (approaching) prepares to dock with Tiangong-1 in 2012. Photo: AFP/Jiuquan Space Centre

    What now?

    The good news is, most of the 19,000-pound spacecraft (the equivalent of six Tesla Roadsters, the car that Elon Musk just launched into space) will burn up in the atmosphere, Chinese authorities said. 

    The not so good news? Only most, not all, is getting burned up. 

    At any rate, the chance that any debris that survives the fiery re-entry will hit you (or your cat) is near zero.

    The Aerospace Corporation, a US-funded research center in California, put the odds of someone being hit at less than one in a trillion. 

    That means you’re about a million times likelier to win the Powerball lottery.

    Tiangong-1 successfully carried out six rendezvous and dockings with several manned and unmanned Shenzhou spacecraft.
    Tiangong-1 successfully carried out six rendezvous and dockings with several manned and unmanned Shenzhou spacecraft. Photo: China Daily via Reuters

    What else?

    Tiangong-1 was launched on September 29, 2011. 

    It successfully carried out six rendezvous and dockings with several manned and unmanned Shenzhou spacecraft, China's space authorities said.

    On March 16, 2016, Tiangong-1 terminated its data service, ending the mission and starting orbital decay.

    That's China's official way of saying that it had lost control of the spacecraft, which was supposed to enter atmosphere in a “controlled reentry” by firing its engines.

    In any case, space authorities around the world are closely monitoring the spacecraft, and they'll probably give you a heads up when it's close to home.

    ALAN WONG
    ALAN WONG
    Alan is editor at Inkstone. He was previously a digital editor for The New York Times in Hong Kong.

    ALAN WONG
    ALAN WONG
    Alan is editor at Inkstone. He was previously a digital editor for The New York Times in Hong Kong.

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