CHINA’S first space station, Tiangong-1, could crash to Earth and hit Spain early in 2018 according to the European Space Agency.
The 8.5-tonne space station, launched in 2011, has been out-of-control since September 2016 and now the ESA is predicting it will make an ‘uncontrolled’ re-entry between January and March 2018.
The experts have projected the latitudes between which it is likely to land and countries at risk include Spain, Italy, Turkey, India and Saudi Arabia and parts of the USA.
The space craft is now at about 300 kilometres (186 miles) altitude travelling at 20,000 miles per hour.
Normally, a decommissioned satellite or space station would be retired by forcing it to burn up in the atmosphere.
But, because the Chinese have lost control of Tiangong-1 it won’t be able to burn up in a controlled manner and there is a chance that debris from the falling spacecraft could strike a populated area.
However, most of the parts of the space station will still burn up in the atmosphere, and the few that do make it to the ground probably won’t land in any populated areas.
Holger Krag, head of ESA’s Space Debris Office, said, “Owing to the geometry of the station’s orbit, we can already exclude the possibility that any fragments will fall over any spot further north than 43°N or further south than 43°S.
“This means that re-entry may take place over any spot on Earth between these latitudes, which includes several European countries, for example.
“The date, time and geographic footprint of the re-entry can only be predicted with large uncertainties.
“Even shortly before re-entry, only a very large time and geographical window can be estimated.”
Jonathan McDowell, a Harvard astrophysicist, said, “Yes there’s a chance it will do damage, it might take out someone’s car, there will be a rain of a few pieces of metal, it might go through someone’s roof, like if a flap fell off a plane, but it is not widespread damage.”