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Falling Chinese Space Station Will Hit Earth This Weekend

China’s Tiangong-1 space lab is expected to fall to Earth by the end of this weekend, according to new re-entry forecasts by the European Space Agency and Aerospace Corp. The space lab is projected to hit Earth sometime between Sunday evening and Monday morning, Space.com reports.

The re-entry path is expected to be within 43 degrees north and 43 degrees south of the equator, which spans from New York City passed Cape Town, CNN reports.

While it is not certain exactly where the debris of Tiangong-1 will end up when it reaches Earth, Aerospace Corp. predicts that, at this point, it will most likely land in the Pacific ocean.

“Some parts of the upper atmosphere are thicker than others meaning the craft slows unpredictably and since it travels around the Earth in just 90 minutes even an uncertainty of a two minutes means the craft could fall anywhere along a 1,000 kilometer track,” Alan Duffy, a research fellow in the Center for Astrophysics and Supercomputing at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia, said.

It is difficult, though, to predict where the remnants of the 9.4 ton space lab will end up. Tiangong-1 is tumbling as it falls to Earth, which makes it hard to determine how atmospheric drag will affect the re-entry path.

“It is tumbling,” Roger Thompson, a senior engineering specialist with Aerospace Corp., told reporters on Wednesday. “We have been able to confirm that there is a tumble, we just can’t tell the orientation.”

But there is no need to worry about suddenly being hit by a huge piece of Tiangong-1.

“There is no need for people to worry about its re-entry into the atmosphere,” an article by the China Manned Space Engineering Office said. “It won’t crash to the Earth fiercely, as in sci-fi movie scenarios, but will look more like a shower of meteors.”

The chances of being hit by a piece of debris from the space lab is about one in a trillion, as most of Tiangong-1 is expected to burn up in the atmosphere as it re-enters, CNN reports.

The 40-foot long space lab, also dubbed “Heavenly Palace,” was launched in September 2011 as a prototype for a permanent Chinese space station expected to launch in 2022, CNN reports. According to Space.com, Tiangong-1 was meant to test docking systems and other technology to prepare for that permanent space station.

However, according to Space.com, in March 2016, Tiangong-1 stopped communicating with the mission control center in Beijing, and its mission was declared to be over. In 2017, the Chinese government told the United Nations that the space lab had “ceased functioning.”

The Tiangong-2 space lab was launched in September 2016 and successfully put into orbit, CNN reports.

This isn’t the first time that a space lab of this sort has fallen back to Earth. According to CNN, Nasa’s first space station, Skylab, fell to Earth in 1979, mostly burning up in the atmosphere during re-entry. The most recent space lab to fall back to Earth was Russia’s 135-ton Mir station in 2001, CNN reports.

Emily has also authored political articles for Restless Magazine and numerous inspirational and empowering pieces for Project Wednesday. When she isn't writing, she can be found flying off to her next adventure, attempting new recipes, listening to one of her infinite playlists on Spotify, or cuddling with her dogs. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter @emilycveith.