An out-of-control Chinese space station with ‘highly toxic’ chemicals onboard that is currently hurtling toward earth may crash into lower Michigan, it has been revealed.
It is believed China’s first prototype station, Tiangong-1, will come crashing back to the planet around April 3, experts say.
US research organization Aerospace Corporation revealed that parts of southern Lower Michigan are among the regions that have the highest probability of being hit by falling debris, according to MLive.com.
Northern China, central Italy, northern Spain, the Middle East, New Zealand, Tasmania, South America, southern Africa, and northern states in the US have been identified as the regions with higher chances.
But agencies will only know the precise date Tiangong-1 will impact and exactly where debris will fall during the finals weeks of its decline.
The doomed 8.5-tonne craft, which has been hurtling towards Earth since control was lost in 2016, is believed to contain dangerous hydrazine.
Experts from the European Space Agency (ESA), based in Paris, are among those tracking Tiangong-1, which means ‘heavenly palace’.
Their Space Debris Office in Darmstadt, Germany, predicted earlier this week that it would enter earth’s atmosphere between March 24 and April 19.
This narrows down from their previous estimate of March 17 to April 21.
Meanwhile Aerospace has worked in two weeks of error, one before and one after April 3, in its latest estimation.
Exactly where it will hit is slightly harder to predict, although experts agree it will be somewhere between latitudes of 43° north and 43° south.
‘Every couple of years something like this happens, but Tiangong-1 is big and dense so we need to keep an eye on it’, Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist from Harvard University told the Guardian.
While most of it will burn up during re-entry, around 10 to 40 per cent of the satellite is expected to survive as debris, and some parts may contain dangerous hydrazine and could weigh up to 220lb.
However, due to changing conditions in space, it is not possible to accurately predict where the module will land.
In recent months, the spacecraft has been speeding up and it is now falling by around 6km (3.7 miles) a week. In October it was falling at 1.5km (0.9 miles) a week.
‘It is only in the final week or so that we are going to be able to start speaking about it with more confidence,’ said Dr McDowell.
‘I would guess that a few pieces will survive re-entry. But we will only know where they are going to land after after the fact.’
‘Remember that a 1 hour error in our guessed reentry time corresponds to an 27000 km (17000 mile) error in the reentry position,’ McDowell explained in one tweet.
‘And currently our estimate has a 2 week uncertainty.’
Aerospace has likewise reported that there is a ‘small chance’ that a ‘small amount’ of Tiangong-1 debris could survive reentry and have impact on the ground.
‘Should this happen, any surviving debris would fall within a region that is a few hundred kilometers in size and centered along a point on the Earth that the station passes over.’
Website Satflare, which provides online 3D tracking of more than 15,000 satellites, has calculated what it thinks are the chances of the space station entering the atmosphere during the next three months.
According to its analysis of orbital elements gathered during the last months, the re-enter may occur in March (20 per cent), in April (60 per cent) or in May 2018 (20 per cent).
These predictions may also change as new orbital measurements will be available.
Aerospace Corp has also issued its own forecast over the likelihood of being hit by falling debris.
In a written statement, a company spokesman said: ‘When considering the worst-case locations, the probability that a specific person will be struck by Tiangong-1 debris is about one million times smaller than the odds of winning the Powerball jackpot.
‘In the history of spaceflight, no known person has ever been harmed by reentering space debris.
‘Only one person has ever been recorded as being hit by a piece of space debris and, fortunately, she was not injured.’
On September 14, 2016, China made an official statement predicting Tiangong-1 would reenter the atmosphere in the latter half of 2017.
Experts from Aerospace’s Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies (Cords) have been studying the space station and in November updated their predictions for its uncontrolled re-entry.
The Tiangong-1 spacecraft launched in 2011, with the aim of using the craft to set up a larger space station.
The craft is now at an altitude of less than 300 kilometres (186 miles) in an orbit that is decaying, forcing it to make an uncontrolled re-entry.
Holger Krag, head of ESA’s Space Debris Office, said: ‘Owing to the geometry of the station’s orbit, we can already exclude the possibility that any fragments will fall over any spot further north than 43°N or further south than 43°S.
‘This means that re-entry may take place over any spot on Earth between these latitudes, which includes several European countries, for example.
‘The date, time and geographic footprint of the re-entry can only be predicted with large uncertainties.
‘Even shortly before re-entry, only a very large time and geographical window can be estimated.’
Much of the spacecraft is expected to burn up in the atmosphere upon re-entry.
But owing to the station’s mass and construction materials, there is a possibility that some portions of it will survive and reach the surface.
In the history of spaceflight, no casualties due to falling space debris have ever been confirmed.