Chinese Manned Space Engineering Office

Chinese Officials Aren't Sure Where Their Falling Spacecraft Will Land

Chinese officials are no longer in control of the Tiangong-1 space station.

By Ryan Biek | September 21, 2016

Chinese officials can't rule out the possibility its falling space station will hit a city next year. 

The Tiangong-1 or "Heavenly Palace" lab was launched in 2011, and the last manned mission was in 2013. The lab continued to send data to the Chinese Manned Space Engineering Office until earlier this year, when the office ended the data transmissions.

Earlier this week, Chinese officials confirmed what had been speculated for months –– that they'd lost control of their craft.

Article Continues Below

A craft re-entering Earth's atmosphere isn't really the scary part. Usually scientists can control the descent to make sure it lands in an ocean. 

SEE MORE: They Even Have Laws In Space — And We Don't Mean Physics

But since China lost control, it has no idea where the craft is going to land. As a Harvard astrophysicist told the Guardian, just a small change in atmospheric conditions could change the craft's course "from one continent to the next." 

The saving grace here is most of the craft will burn up as it falls to Earth. But some parts, like the 200-pound rocket engines, may not melt completely.

Still, the planet's huge, so no city is being told to freak out just yet. China just launched a new space station, Tiangong-2, earlier this month.

Want to see more stories like this?
Like Newsy on Facebook for More Spaceflight Coverage