In this Nov. 16, 2010 file photo, visitors sit beside a model of China’s Tiangong-1 space station at the 8th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai in southern China’s Guangdong Province. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)

China space station mostly burns up on re-entry in south Pacific

Tiangong 1’s re-entry was ‘mostly successful’

China’s defunct Tiangong 1 space station mostly burned up on re-entry into the atmosphere over the central South Pacific on Monday, Chinese space authorities said.

The experimental space laboratory re-entered around 8:15 a.m. Beijing time, the China Manned Space Engineering Office said.

Scientists monitoring the craft’s disintegrating orbit had forecast the craft would mostly burn up and would pose only the slightest of risks to people. Analysis from the Beijing Aerospace Control Center showed it had mostly burned up.

Brad Tucker, an astrophysicist at Australian National University, said that Tiangong 1’s re-entry was “mostly successful” and that it would have been better if the space station had not been spinning toward Earth.

“It could have been better, obviously, if it wasn’t tumbling, but it landed in the Southern Pacific Ocean, and that’s kind of where you hope it would land,” Tucker said.

“It’s been tumbling and spinning for a while, which means that when it really starts to come down it’s less predictable about what happens to it,” Tucker said. He likened it to an airplane landing, saying it’s more difficult to predict where a plane that is “shaking around and moving” will land than one that is smoothly descending.

Launched in 2011, Tiangong 1 was China’s first space station, serving as an experimental platform for bigger projects, such as the Tiangong 2 launched in September 2016 and a future permanent Chinese space station.

Two crews of Chinese astronauts lived on the station while testing docking procedures and other operations. Its last crew departed in 2013 and contact with it was cut in 2016.

Since then, it has orbited gradually closer and closer to Earth on its own while being monitored.

Earlier forecasts had said that only about 10 per cent of the bus-sized, 8.5-ton spacecraft would likely survive re-entry, mainly its heavier components such as its engines.

“The biggest takeaway from this is that as we put more things into space, all countries, we have to be aware that we do have to plan for these sorts of issues that are happening,” Tucker said.

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

“We believe it was an uncontrolled entry,” Thompson said, adding that the corporation’s own estimate had been just 15 minutes behind the time announced by China.

The lack of control was not unusual given that about 15 per cent of satellites re-enter the atmosphere prior to the end of their useful lives, he said.

The corporation, which provides technical support for the space industry, had not been in touch with the Chinese side about the re-entry, Thompson said.

China’s foreign and defence ministries said the country had relayed information about Tiangong 1’s return to Earth to the United Nations’ space agency and others.

Debris from satellites, space launches and the International Space Station enters the atmosphere every few months, but only one person is known to have been hit by any of it: American woman Lottie Williams, who was struck but not injured by a falling piece of a U.S. Delta II rocket while exercising in an Oklahoma park in 1997.

Most famously, America’s 77-ton Skylab crashed through the atmosphere in 1979, spreading pieces of wreckage near the southwest Australian city of Perth, which fined the U.S. $400 for littering.

Tiangong 1, whose name translates as “Heavenly Palace,” had two modules, one for its solar panels and engines, and one for a pair of astronauts to live in and conduct experiments. A third astronaut slept in the Shenzhou spaceships that docked with the station, which also contained facilities for personal hygiene and food preparation.

China’s space program has made rapid progress since it launched its first crewed mission in 2003 — becoming only the third country after Russia and the U.S. to do so — including placing a rover on Mars and conducting a spacewalk.

A mission to land another rover on Mars and bring back samples is set to launch in 2020, while China also plans to become the first country to soft-land a probe on the far side of the moon.

The program’s military background has at times been a barrier to greater co-operation with those run by other countries, and it was excluded from the 420-ton International Space Station that is now beginning to wind down.

___

Associated Press writer Gillian Wong contributed to this report.

Christopher Bodeen, The Associated Press

Just Posted

Incumbents and acclaimed mayors win elections all across B.C.’s north

Fraser Lake saw their first female mayor elected

Mayoral results from across B.C.

Voters in 162 municipalities in B.C. set to elect mayor, council, school board and more

Every vote counts: 10 tightest races in B.C.’s municipal elections

Peachland saw their election decided by just one vote

Ocean “Blob” returns to North Coast of B.C.

A 2,000 kilometre patch of warm ocean water could signal a warm winter in Prince Rupert

‘Police are ready’ for legal pot, say Canadian chiefs

But Canadians won’t see major policing changes as pot becomes legal

Voting set to start in B.C. proportional representation referendum

Two-part ballots now being mailed to all registered voters

Liberals write off $6.3 billion in loans as part of money never to be collected

That includes student loans and a $2.6 billion write off that came through Export Development Canada

Category 5 Hurricane Willa threatens Mexico’s Pacific coast

Hurricane-force winds extended 30 miles (45 kilometres) from the storm’s centre

Trudeau, McKenna to announce compensation for federal carbon plan

Provinces that don’t have a carbon price of at least $20 per tonne of emissions will have Ottawa’s plan forced on them

Okanagan parachute accident kills American

Man, 34, dies in skydiving accident Saturday near Westwold, between Vernon and Kelowna

Man who died at BC Ferries terminal shot himself as police fired: watchdog

Officers didn’t commit any offence, says police watchdog office

Canada Post strikes leaves small shops in the lurch as holidays approach: CFIB

Rotating strikes began in Victoria, Edmonton, Halifax and Windsor

Voter turnout at 36% in B.C.’s municipal election

Vancouver saw 39% turnout, Surrey saw 33%

Harry and Meghan travel in different style on Australia tour

Prince Harry and his wife Meghan are on day seven of their 16-day tour of Australia and the South Pacific.

Most Read