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Whoops! China (May Have) Lost Control Of Its Space Station And It (Could Be) Hurtling Toward Earth

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If you see a massive fireball tearing through the sky in the next few weeks, fret not. It is not a harbinger of the apocalypse, or even a meteor that will impact Earth and bring upon the apocalypse.

It’s just (probably) China’s first ever space station, which they (may have) lost control of.

But they won’t say.

An amateur satellite observer is certain that China has lost control over the eight-ton Tiangong-1. From Space.com:

[Some] satellite trackers think China may have lost control of the uncrewed 8-ton (7.3 metric tons) vehicle, which is called Tiangong-1. That’s the view of Thomas Dorman, who has been documenting flyovers of the spacecraft using telescopes, binoculars, video and still cameras, a DVD recorder, a computer and other gear.

“If I am right, China will wait until the last minute to let the world know it has a problem with their space station,” Dorman told Space.com.

China is notoriously secretive about everything, so this wouldn’t surprise me. Tiangong-1 was launched in 2011, and the manned space station was an important first trial in China’s plans to put a fully operational space station comparable to the ISS in orbit by 2020.

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A little while back, Chinese officials announced that the telemetry link to Tiangong-1 had failed, leading many to assume it will come tearing through Earth’s atmosphere soon.

Dorman said his observations support this looming scenario. And it makes sense to Dean Cheng, a senior research fellow at the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based conservative think tank. [6 Biggest Spacecraft to Fall Uncontrolled From Space]

Cheng said he’s surprised that Chinese space authorities have not declared exactly when Tiangong-1 will come back to Earth, even though its operational life seems to be over.

“That would seem to suggest that it’s not being deorbited under control,” Cheng told Space.com. “That’s the implication.”

Well that ain’t good. Luckily, like 85 percent of the planet is unpopulated, so it (probably) won’t hurt anyone.

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But it would be nice if China would let us know where it might land, you know?

Not everyone agrees though that China has lost control of Tiangong-1.

“It seems it may be much ado about nothing,” said T.S. Kelso, a senior research astrodynamicist at the Center for Space Standards & Innovation (CSSI), a research arm of Analytical Graphics.

Kelso has plotted the altitude history of Tiangong-1 from just after its launch to more recent times. He told Space.com that the Chinese space lab’s orbit was reboosted relatively recently, in mid-December 2015.

Kelso said his reading of the data suggests that Tiangong-1 is dormant but stable.

“So that might be why the Chinese aren’t responding … they probably don’t understand why they would need to,” Kelso said.

The last space station to spectacularly crash back to Earth was Skylab in 1979, which left an unexpected debris trail across Southwestern Australia after it burned up in the atmosphere lower than NASA estimated. That, however, was ten times the size of this.

Still, keep yah heads up.

source

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