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

Peru authorities order arrest of two suspects in Vancouver Island man’s killing

Peru’s attorney general has ordered the arrest of two suspects in the… Continue reading

UPDATED: Comox Valley man killed in Peru

A Canadian man killed in Peru has been identified by the Peruvian… Continue reading

Big Read: locked out of the woods

Vancouver Islanders struggle to balance back country public access with private land protection

Celebrate Youth Week at The LINC

Special week features hockey tourney, skate jam

Toronto van attack suspect faces 10 counts of first-degree murder

The suspect in the Toronto van attack that killed 10 people and injured 15 others on Monday is a 25-year-old man named Alek Minassian

Doctor sees healing power in psychedelic plant as Peru investigates death of B.C. man

Peru’s attorney general has ordered the arrest of two suspects in the killing of 41-year-old Sebastian Woodroffe

Toronto police officer ‘gave himself the space and time’ in van attack

Footage shows officer standing up, turning off his siren and talking clearly to the suspect

$1.18 to $1.58 a litre: Are you paying the most for gas in B.C.?

Gas prices across B.C. vary, with lowest in Vernon and highest in – you guessed it – Metro Vancouver

Inquest set 10 years after B.C. woman shot, left to die

Lisa Dudley, and her partner, Guthrie McKay were shot in their Mission home in September 2008

B.C. hockey team to retire Humboldt Bronco victim’s number

BCHL’s Surrey Eagles to retire Jaxon Joseph’s No. 10 in light of bus tragedy

B.C. Hells Angels invited to rally by anti-SOGI organizer

The Culture Guard group has helped Hells Angels in the past, said its executive director.

B.C. bill aims to keep Indigenous kids in communities, out of care

Changes to Child, Family and Community Service Act could connect MCFD, Indigenous communities

Condo contract rules target B.C. property flippers

Regulations to prevent property transfer tax evasion

Most Read