China’s space station is not out of control and people living under it aren’t in danger, a leading Chinese engineer has said amid fears it could soon slam down to Earth.
Repeated warnings have suggested that the space agency has lost control of its station and that it could plummet down to Earth. But it has told the public that it knows exactly what is going on with it.
Tiangong-1, which translates as “heavenly palace”, was launched into orbit in 2011. Since then it has been undertaking experiments, in large part as a test to have a permanent station in space by 2023.
It was supposed to be decommissioned in 2013, with a controlled destruction. That has been repeatedly delayed, however, leading to fears that it could be out of control and the Chinese space agency is simply waiting for it to fall back to Earth.
If it did so and managed to land over a populated area, the remains of the space station that don’t burn up on re-entry could cause serious damage.
Zhu Congpeng, a top engineer at the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, told the state-backed Science and Technology Daily newspaper that the space station was not crashing and did not pose a safety or environmental threat.
“We have been continuously monitoring Tiangong-1 and expect to allow it to fall within the first half of this year,” Mr Zhu told the newspaper.
“It will burn up on entering the atmosphere and the remaining wreckage will fall into a designated area of the sea, without endangering the surface,” he said.
Re-entry was delayed in September 2017 in order to ensure that the wreckage would fall into an area of the south Pacific Ocean where debris from Russian and US space stations had previously landed, the paper said.
The California-based Aerospace Corporation, a non-profit group that conducts federal research, said the Tiangong-1’s re-entry was unlikely to be controlled but was highly unlikely to hit people or damage property, according to a post on its website last updated 3 January.
“Although not declared officially, it is suspected that control of Tiangong-1 was lost and will not be regained before re-entry,” it said. There may be hazardous material on board that could survive re-entry, it said.
Advancing China’s space programme is a priority for President Xi Jinping, who has called for China to become a global space power with both advanced civilian space flight and capabilities that strengthen national security.
Beijing insists that its space programme is for peaceful purposes, but the US Defence Department has said China’s programme could be aimed at blocking adversaries from using space-based assets during a crisis.
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