State to monitor reentry of Chinese space station
Michigan officials have activated the state’s Emergency Operations Center to monitor a Chinese space station re-entry this week into the Earth’s atmosphere.
Tiangong-1 is expected to burn up during the entry, but some authorities believe debris could land in the United States. The Aerospace Corporation projected that small pieces of the 8.5-ton space station could land along a strip from northern California to Pennsylvania, which includes Michigan’s southern Lower Peninsula.
“While the chances are slim that any of the debris will land in Michigan, we are monitoring the situation and are prepared to respond quickly if it does,” said Capt. Chris A. Kelenske, deputy director of Emergency Management and Homeland Security and commander of the Michigan State Police, Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division, on Thursday. “The state will rely on its existing satellite reentry response and recovery plan for any necessary response protocols.”
Debris could contain hydrazine, a 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,” state officials said Thursday.
The European Space Agency predicts the station will re-enter the atmosphere between Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon — an estimate it calls “highly variable,” likely because the ever-changing shape of the upper atmosphere affects the speed of objects falling into it.
The Chinese space agency’s latest estimate puts re-entry between Saturday and Wednesday.
Western space experts say they believe China has lost control of the station. China’s chief space laboratory designer Zhu Zongpeng has denied Tiangong was out of control but hasn’t provided specifics on what, if anything, China is doing to guide the craft’s re-entry.
Based on Tiangong 1’s orbit, it will come to Earth somewhere between latitudes of 43 degrees north and 43 degrees south, or roughly somewhere over most of the United States, China, Africa, southern Europe, Australia and South America. Out of range are Russia, Canada and northern Europe.
Launched in 2011, Tiangong 1 was China’s first space station, serving as an experimental platform for bigger projects such as the Tiangong 2 launched in September 2016 and a future permanent Chinese space station.
The station, whose name translates as “Heavenly Palace,” played host to two crewed missions that included China’s first female astronauts and served as a test platform for perfecting docking procedures and other operations. Its last crew departed in 2013 and contact with it was cut in 2016. Since then it has been orbiting gradually closer and closer to Earth on its own while being monitored.