LISTEN: Tiangong1 Space Station Falling To Earth!

China's Tiangong-1 Space Station is tumbling out-of-control bath to Earth sometime on Easter Sunday and one of the projected paths has the satellite crossing over Northwestern Ohio and Michigan during it's fiery re-entry.  In fact, Thursday night, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder activated the state's Emergency Operations Center to track the satellite's re-entry ... just in case.  However, the chances of any damage are actually quite slim.

The Aerospace Corporation says the probability that a person actually would get struck by this debris is "about one million times smaller than the odds of winning the Powerball jackpot."

Dr. Roger Thompson, Senior Engineering Specialist for mission analysis and operation at The Aerospace Corporation, was on The Scott Sands Show to talk about the Tiangong-1 re-entry and it's potential impact on our region.  It's part of Dr. Thompson's job to provide support for space situational awareness, collision avoidance, on-orbit breakup analysis, risk assessment, space debris issues, deorbit/reentry prediction, and orbital operations for many programs and space missions ... so, he should know!  

Listen below.



There is a chance that a small amount of Tiangong-1 debris may survive reentry and impact the ground. Should this happen, any surviving debris would fall within a region that is a few hundred kilometers in size and centered along a point on the Earth that the station passes over. The map below shows the relative probabilities of debris landing within a given region. Yellow indicates locations that have a higher probability while green indicates areas of lower probability. Blue areas have zero probability of debris reentry since Tiangong-1 does not fly over these areas (north of 42.7° N latitude or south of 42.7° S latitude). These zero probability areas constitute about a third of the total Earth’s surface area.

This space station is China's first. It was launched in September 2011 and was designed to last about two years. On March 21, 2016 China said it terminated its "data service" with Tiangong-1, allowing it to eventually fall back to Earth. The Aerospace Coporation says "amateur satellite trackers have been tracking Tiangong-1 and claim it has been orbiting uncontrolled since at least June 2016."

And now we await its arrival back to Earth, in pieces. It weights 18,740 pounds (about 8 tons) and is about 34 feet in length and 11 feet wide. There are two solar panels on it, too. 

Debris could contain hydrazine, which is a highly toxic and corrosive substance. Any suspected space debris should be considered hazardous. Anyone who suspects they have encountered debris from the space station should report it by calling 911 and stay at least 150 feet away from it.

We also received this statement from Major Cody Chiles, Joint Force Space Component Command spokesman.

The Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg AFB used Space Surveillance Network sensors and their orbital analysis system to project Tiangong-1’s reentry on/around 31 March, 2018. The exact date and location of reentry is currently unknown due to numerous variables.We will continue to refine our prediction and ultimately provide more fidelity as the reentry time approaches. This information will be listed in U.S. Strategic Command's publicly available website

There are many factors acting on an object as it decays and reenters the atmosphere. These factors include how an object tumbles and breaks up, variations in the gravitational field of a landmass or ocean, solar radiation pressure and atmospheric drag. These factors complicate the ability to predict what happens after reentry occurs; however, accuracy of reentry predictions increase as the reentry event approaches.The Joint Force Space Component Command monitors a congested space environment, including tens of thousands of man-made debris pieces, while simultaneously working with our government, international and industry partners to increase space situational awareness.By tracking and listing these objects and making that information available, we enable spaceflight safety and increase transparency in the space domain.We will continue to monitor this reentry and provide more information when it is available.

For additional information about China’s Tiangong-1, please contact the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

Scott Sands

Scott Sands

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