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Falling space station's re-entry, landing site viewed as a success

05 April 2018

As Chinese space lab Tiangong-1 re-entered the Earth's atmosphere on Monday, burning up in the skies over the central region of the South Pacific, residents of the country bid the spacecraft a final farewell.

A model of the Tiangong-1 space lab module (L), the Shenzhou-9 manned spacecraft (R) and three Chinese astronauts is displayed during a news conference at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, in Gansu province, China June 15, 2012.

"Most of the parts burned up and disappeared", Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters, adding that China kept the United Nations space agency informed about the situation.

The 8.5-tonne Tiangong-1, with a length of 10.4 metres and maximum diametre of 3.35 metres, providing a room of 15 cubic meters for three astronauts to live and work, was launched by the Long March-2FT1 carrier rocket at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwest China on September 29, 2011.

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China plans to start construction of a manned space station in 2019 with plans to launch it skyward by 2022.

The government, however, did not specify the reason.

Launched in 2011, Tiangong-1 ended service in March 2016.

"The [Joint Force Space Component Command] used the Space Surveillance Network sensors and their orbital analysis system to confirm Tiangong-1's re-entry, and to refine its prediction and ultimately provide more fidelity as the re-entry time approached", U.S. Air Force wrote on its website. Scientists could neither alter nor even really track Tiangong-1's descent. But the landing site in the southern Pacific is "kind of where you hope it would land". Several space crafts or stations have re-entered our atmosphere in the past, and this most recent one is just another instance in which a person was not killed or injured. Only a small amount of debris may reach the surface.

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Chinese authorities suggested in a statement that the world was interested in the Tiangong-1's re-entry out of jealousy. The single-module station measured some 34 feet (10.4 meters) long and had a diameter of approximately 11 feet (3.4 meters).

The Tiangong-1 saga is finally over. It's likely that the drag would have quickly ripped off solar panels and antenna.

The station was a stepping stone for the Chinese space program, used to practice docking maneuvers in space - something essential for further space exploration, including the use of larger space stations in the future.

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Falling space station's re-entry, landing site viewed as a success