China’s first space station re-entered the atmosphere late Sunday over the South Pacific, and while most of it burnt up in the sky, around 1,500 pounds apparently crashed into the ocean.
“Small bits definitely will have made it to the surface,” Brad Tucker, an astrophysicist at Australian National University told Reuters. Tucker estimates that about 90 percent of the station would have burned up, but the remaining 10 percent would weigh between 1,543 and 1,764 lbs.
“Most likely the debris is in the ocean, and even if people stumbled over it, it would just look like rubbish in the ocean and be spread over a huge area of thousands of square kilometers,” Tucker said.
Nations all over the world were tracking the station as its orbit slowly degraded. U.S. Strategic Command’s Joint Force Space Component Command, working with eight other countries, confirmed the crash in a press release.
China launched the Tiangong-1, which means “Heavenly Palace 1” in English, in 2011 to conduct docking and orbiting experiments in preparation for the country’s future permanent space station, scheduled to be built in 2023.
The station is 34 feet long and once housed three Chinese astronauts in 2013. China launched a second space station, the Tiangong-2, in 2016 and has plans to put up a third soon.
While China always intended to let Tiangong-1 enter the atmosphere, the space authority extended the station’s mission several times. Chinese authorities suggested in a statement that the world was interested in the Tiangong-1’s re-entry out of jealousy.
“It’s normal for spacecraft to re-enter the atmosphere, yet Tiangong-1 received so much attention, partly because some Western countries are trying to hype and sling mud at China’s fast-growing aerospace industry,” the statement said.
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