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China’s Out-Of-Control Space Station To Burn Up In Atmosphere Next Year

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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China’s first space station will burn up in Earth’s atmosphere late next year, according to Chinese officials Monday.

The space station, dubbed Tiangong-1, will likely fall to Earth in the second half of 2017, and its demise shouldn’t cause problems on the ground.

“Based on our calculation and analysis, most parts of the space lab will burn up during falling,” according to China’s state-run Xinhua news agency. It appears that China is no longer in control of the space station, since control would necessitate guided re-entry over an empty stretch of ocean at a specified time, all things which China admits are no longer possible. The station stopped sending data back to Earth in March.

Tiangong-1 was launched in 2011 and weighed 8.5 metric tons, making it quite small compared to the first Soviet and U.S. space stations. The 1971 Soviet station, Salyut 1, was 18.6 metric tons, and the 1973-launched American Skylab was 77 metric tons. The International Space Station (ISS), is approximately 400 metric tons by comparison and 356 feet long.

China successfully launched its second space station into orbit Sept. 15, significantly accelerating the new space race with America.

Tiangong-2, China’s second space station, will host three crew members for up to 20 days. Once in orbit, it will be visited by manned mission Shenzhou 11 in October. Tiangong-2, which translates to, “Heavenly Palace 2,” is carrying 14 scientific payloads. The second space station station weighs 8.6 metric tons and will be 47 feet long.
Simply installing a space station is not the only Chinese space-related objective. The country plans to land a solar-powered rover on Mars in 2020, while NASA intends to launch its own  $2.1 billion dollar nuclear isotope-powered Mars rover the same year.

Since launching its first manned space mission in 2003, China staged a spacewalk, landed a rover on the Moon, increased its cooperation in space with Europe, and launched a demo space station — making it wholly prepared for its latest space endeavor. The country has launched a total of five crewed flights since 2003.

In spite of an impressive laundry list of space milestones, China’s space program still faces serious problems. The Chinese lunar rover had numerous mechanical problems and was ultimately abandoned. China’s first attempt to send a satellite into Mars orbit in 2011 failed when the rocket carrying it blew up before even reaching Earth orbit.

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