Chinese space station slated for Easter crash and Malta is in its path… but don’t worry

China’s first space station will be falling down to earth over the coming days in an uncontrolled fashion and scientists are unable to say exactly where the debris will land

Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will crash to earth over the weekend
Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will crash to earth over the weekend

Malta falls within the vast area where a falling Chinese space station is expected to crash over Easter weekend, according to data from the European Space Agency.

In its latest bulletin released today, the ESA said the current estimated re-entry window was between 30 March and 2 April but the projection remained “highly variable”.

Space station fall risk map produced by the European Space Agency
Space station fall risk map produced by the European Space Agency

But before hitting the panic button, the map produced by the ESA of the likely crash site (shown in green on the map) covers a huge swath of the globe that stretches from central Italy all the way down to Tasmania in Australia. Malta falls within the upper reaches of this path.

ESA said there was a higher likelihood that re-entry would occur near the edges of the latitude band – the top and bottom of the green band in the map.

Tiangong-1, China’s first space station, was launched in 2011 and scientists were planning a controlled re-entry at the end of its life by firing its engines to ensure it falls back to earth at a specific location.

However, in March 2016 the space station ceased functioning and ground teams lost control with the craft. With scientists, unable to fire its engines, the craft is expected to make an uncontrolled entry. This makes it difficult to predict where it will crash.

Space agencies across the world have been coordinating efforts since 2016 to monitor the situation as it unfolds but the level of uncertainty remains huge.

In an FAQ on the subject, ESA noted that even seven hours before the actual re-entry, the uncertainty on the break-up location is a full orbital revolution – that means plus or minus thousands of km.

And if it is any consolation, ESA said the personal probability of being hit by a piece of debris from the space station is 10 million times smaller than the yearly chance of being hit by lightning.

“In the history of spaceflight, no casualties due to falling space debris have ever been confirmed,” the agency said.

The agency is expecting the craft to largely break up during its atmospheric re-entry with some parts surviving the gruelling process to reach the earth’s surface.

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