The Chinese space station Tiangong-1 is expected to crash down to Earth this weekend, and in preparation, Michigan has activated its ‘Emergency Operations Centre.’
Gov. Rick Synder activated the centre today to monitor the re-entry – the location of which remains unclear.
According to the Aerospace Corporation, the 8.5 ton space station could land along a strip of the US from northern California to Pennsylvania, which includes the southern Lower-Peninsula of Michigan.
Capt. A. Kelenske, deputy director of Emergency Management and Homeland Security , said: “While the chances are slim that any of the debris will land in Michigan, we are monitoring the situation and are prepared to respond quickly if it does.
“The state will rely on its existing satellite reentry response and recovery plan for any necessary response protocols.”
The space station is set to crash down to Earth over the Easter weekend – sometime between March 31 and April 1.
Thankfully, the European Space Agency (ESA) , suggests that the station will “substantially burn up” completely and there won’t be any risk to human life.
Last week, radar images were acquired by the Tracking and Imaging Radar system – one of the world’s most capable such systems operated by Germany’s Fraunhofer FHR research institute at Wachtberg, near Bonn.
In the pictures, the craft was at an altitude of about 270 km above the Earth.
Even if debris from the station does make it to ground, the ESA says it can’t predict exactly where until the last second.
“In general, the uncertainty associated with an uncontrolled reentry prediction is on the order of 20% of the remaining orbital lifetime,” the space agency explained.
“Practically, this means that even 7 hours before the actual reentry, the uncertainty on the break-up location is a full orbital revolution – meaning plus or minus thousands of km!”
The spacecraft’s 10.4 m-long main body is made up of two cylinders of approximately equal length: a service module and an experiment module.
The thinner service module provides power and orbit control capabilities for the station. It has two solar panels, each approximately 3 x 7 m in size.
When it launched, it was reported to weigh 8.5 tonnes – although much of this includes the fuel that was needed to keep it in orbit and make it habitable.
Now that much of the fuel has been used up, the station will have a significantly lower mass on re-entry.
It’s been unoccupied since 2013 and there has been no contact with the station since 2016.
The Space Debris Office added that ‘re-entry will take place anywhere between latitudes 43ºN and 43ºS’, and has produced a map of areas at risk, which you can see above.
These include countries like Spain, Turkey, India, Italy and parts of the US. The UK is not expected to be affected.
“In the history of spaceflight, no casualties from falling space debris have ever been confirmed,” states the ESA.
The Tiangong-1 space station is capable of housing three astronauts but it’s real purpose was to serve as a prototype station for China’s forthcoming space endevours.
The country was unwilling to discuss its fate, but revealed in a statement last year that it would crash down to Earth sometime between late 2017 and early 2018.
China already has its new space station Tiangong-2 (the translation of Tiangong means “Heavenly Place”) in orbit around the planet.
Further sections will be added to Tiangong-2 in future to form a modular structure, similar to the International Space Station.