Did you know Tiangong 1, China’s space lab, translates to ‘Heavenly Palace’? AND that Heavenly Palace will soon come raining down on Earth. Not like raining cats & dogs, more like raining like an 8 and ½ ton metal object. Still with about 71% of the Earth covered in water, even though the Chinese lost control of the space lab back in September of 2016, it’s not likely to be a major problem.
Think about it – an uncontrolled crash of a large spacecraft, sounds familiar. Well, back in 1991 The Soviet Salyut 7 space station crashed to Earth. And don’t forget that NASA's Skylab space station fell over Western Australia in 1979.
China provided a general time table for the uncontrolled crash to the United Nations back in May. China said that the lab should reenter Earth sometime between October and April 2018.
While the space lab is rather large, 34 feet in length, much of it is expected to burn up during the reentry phase. An astrophysicist from Harvard University, Jonathan McDowell, has explained that pieces weighing up to 220 pounds could still make it to the Earth's surface.
Chine’s space lab, the Tiangong 1, stopped being used back in March having completed its mission. The lab had served as a base for space experiments for 4 and ½ years having hosted two three-person crews, one of which was China's first female astronaut, Liu Yang, in 2012.
Since then China has gone on to the Tiangong-2 (yes, ‘Heavenly Palace’-2) and is currently conducting months of robotic demonstrations. From robotic docking, having the ship leave and then re-dock, refueling, all things meant to prepare them for the next step – launching an even larger space lab into space. Well, that and extending their reach.
But back to the Tiangong-1; the station has been slowly deorbiting since its service ended. However, it has increased its speed of its fall since reaching the denser layers of Earth's atmosphere. China won’t know where (or when) the space lab will crash until likely 6 or 7 hours before it happens.
Had China retained control of the Tiangong-1 it would have gone the way many other spacecraft (the ones that remain in control) as they are carefully guided to their final resting place - a place on Earth called the Oceanic Pole of Inaccessibility. It is a 2 and ½ mile-deep spot in the ocean known as the “spacecraft cemetery” (~ 3,000 miles off the coast of New Zealand & ~2,000 miles north of Antarctica.) [side note; this is probably where we dropped the Decepticons.] There are more than 263 spacecraft in this cemetery just since 1971.