Space station re-entry called mostly successful

Thursday, 05 Apr, 2018

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: State media reports that the Tiangong-1, or Heavenly Palace, was picked up by flight control as it re-entered the earth's atmosphere at about quarter past 8:00 in the morning Beijing time.

The Tiangong-1 "mostly" burnt up above the vast ocean's central region, China's Manned Space Engineering Office said.

China had earlier said re-entry would happen in late 2017, but that process was delayed, leading some experts to suggest the space laboratory was out of control.

China launched its second space lab, Tiangong II, in September 2016.

The government, however, did not specify the reason.

"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.

Roger Thompson, senior engineering specialist with the Aerospace Corporation in Virginia, said modeling of Tiangong 1's re-entry by monitors in the US had been highly accurate, leaving him feeling "great" about their predictions.

Tiangong-1 was lofted on September 29, 2011, and had a projected two-year lifespan. He said Tiangong-1's landing site in the Pacific Ocean represents "kind of where you hope it would". Only one person has ever reported being hit by falling space debris of such incidents. It was about 34 feet long and weighed more than 9 tons. Speaking to Newsweek before the crash, he said that the Tiangong-1 reentering Earth's atmosphere was "not something we should be concerned about". Huang Weifen, deputy chief designer of the Astronaut Center of China, said it played an important role in China's space history and provided "precious experience" for building a space station, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Let's hope that's the case with the next piece of space debris that rains down; there are over 21,000 objects larger than 4 inches big being tracked by the Department of Defense's U.S. Space Surveillance Network, and they're cruising at almost 18,000 miles per hour.

Normally, when an unshielded spacecraft re-enters the atmosphere, external parts such as the solar panels and antennas are the first victims of the atmospheric drag. There was no immediate confirmation of the final resting place of any remaining debris, although the South Pacific is largely empty.