Chinese officials reveal that they had lost control of Tiangong 1, China’s first space laboratory, during a conference on Sept. 14 in Jiuquan. Tiangong 1 is expected to fall into Earth’s atmosphere in the second half of 2017 after six years in space.
“Based on our calculation and analysis, most parts of the space lab will burn up during falling,” adds Wu Ping, deputy director of the manned space engineering office, during a press conference.
Although Wu says that the descent will not affect any aviation activities or cause any damage to the ground, she says that China is still monitoring their space station for any possible collisions with other objects. Nevertheless, it seems that the Chinese space lab’s descent is uncontrolled since the Chinese space agency admits that it will only release an international forecast for where it will land at a later date.
As of now, Tiangong 1 is still intact and orbits above Earth at an average height of 370 kilometers. The space lab, which means Heavenly Palace, was launched in September 2011.
During its time, it had significantly helped China’s manned missions in space, including serving as the docking site for Shenzhou-8, Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 spacecraft. It finished its mission in March 2016 after in service for four and a half years, which is two and a half years longer than what Chinese scientists thought it would last.
However, rumors started spreading that China actually lost control of its eight-ton space lab. Amateur satellite tracker Thomas Dorman told Space.com that the space lab was out of control, adding, “China will wait until the last minute to let the world know it has a problem with their space station.”
Astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell from Harvard University told the Guardian that no one can predict where Tiangong 1 will land. Even just two days before it re-enters atmosphere, we would not still know when it is going to come down, which means that no one knows where it’s going to come down. This uncertainty is reminiscent of the US space station Skylab, which fell on a remote area in Australia in 1979.
During the press conference, Wu also mentioned that China will launch its Tiangong 2 space lab at 10:04 PM Thursday local time.