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    Apr
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    China’s Tiangong-1 space lab crashes to Earth (and not in anyone’s backyard)
    China’s Tiangong-1 space lab crashes to Earth (and not in anyone’s backyard)
    SCIENCE

    China’s Tiangong-1 space lab crashes to Earth (and not in anyone’s backyard)

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    by
    Viola Zhou and Stephen Chen
    Viola Zhou and
    Stephen Chen
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    Here’s your good news for the day: China’s out-of-control space station is not going to hit your house.

    The 19,000-pound Tiangong-1 space lab finally crashed back to the Earth on Sunday at 8.15pm Eastern Time, according to China’s space authorities. 

    The wreckage re-entered the atmosphere above the central region of the South Pacific, the China Manned Space Engineering Office said.

    A “vast majority” of the bus-sized spacecraft was burned up in the atmosphere, it said. 

    No one was reported hurt in the process.

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    An artist's depiction of Tiangong-1.
    An artist's depiction of Tiangong-1. Photo: Aerospace Corp.

    The returning satellite caught global attention over the past few weeks, with people across the world wondering whether the spacecraft might crash into their backyards.

    It is extremely hard for scientists to pinpoint where uncontrolled satellites will land because of the high speeds involved. Tiangong-1 was travelling at 17,000 miles per hour before its re-entry to the atmosphere.

    The European Space Agency had initially predicted that Tiangong-1 could re-enter anywhere between latitudes of 43ºN and 43ºS.

    That range covers most of the United States, China, Africa, southern Europe, Australia and South America.

    Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said the remaining pieces of Tiangong-1 might have landed northwest of Tahiti.

    The location is north of the Spacecraft Cemetery, a region near New Zealand in the Pacific Ocean where many spaceships have been allowed to fall to earth, due to its remoteness from human and oceanic life.

    China launched Tiangong-1, or “Heavenly Palace 1,” in September 2011 as part of its increasingly ambitious space program.

    During its 4.5-year lifetime, the space lab successfully carried out six rendezvous and dockings. 

    It hosted six visiting astronauts in 2012 and 2013, including China’s only two female astronauts.

    There were once happy times in Tiangong-1.
    There were once happy times in Tiangong-1. Photo: Xinhua

    Despite the space lab's glorious past, experts say China will most likely just let the remaining debris sink into the ocean.

    "It was not like there were still people onboard requiring a rescue mission," said Zhu Jin, director of the Beijing Planetarium. 

    "There is nothing valuable, just pieces of junk."

    A subsequent spacecraft, Tiangong-2, was launched in September 2016 and remains in operation.

    China’s ruling Communist Party has vowed to make the nation a strong power in space.

    The country plans to launch a Mars probe in 2020 and establish its first space station in around 2022.

    VIOLA ZHOU
    VIOLA ZHOU
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    Viola is a multimedia producer at Inkstone. Previously, she wrote about Chinese politics for the South China Morning Post.

    STEPHEN CHEN
    STEPHEN CHEN
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    Stephen is a contributor to Inkstone. He covers science and its impact on society, as well as the environment, military, geopolitics and business for the South China Morning Post.

    VIOLA ZHOU
    VIOLA ZHOU
    arrow rightarrow right
    Viola is a multimedia producer at Inkstone. Previously, she wrote about Chinese politics for the South China Morning Post.

    STEPHEN CHEN
    STEPHEN CHEN
    arrow rightarrow right
    Stephen is a contributor to Inkstone. He covers science and its impact on society, as well as the environment, military, geopolitics and business for the South China Morning Post.

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