China’s first-ever space laboratory, Tiangong-1, will fall to Earth within the next week and, weather permitting, you may get an opportunity to see it in one of its final trips around our planet. And, if you’re very lucky, you might even get a chance to see it disintegrate into a fiery ball as it streaks across the sky.
By Joe Rao | SPACE.COM
The space lab launched on Sept. 29, 2011, from Jiuquan, China, and was christened Tiangong-1, which means „Heavenly Palace.“ A robotic spacecraft, Shenzhou-8, docked with Tiangong-1 in early November 2011, followed by two crewed missions: Shenzhou-9 in June 2012, and Shenzhou-10 in June 2013. Both missions carried three Chinese astronauts and lasted for two weeks.
On March 21, 2016, Chinese space agency officials announced that Tiangong-1 had officially ended its service and that the telemetry link with the spacelab had been lost. Shortly thereafter, U.S. satellite observers noticed that it appeared to be in a slow, uncontrolled roll as it circled Earth. It’s been space junk ever since. [China’s Space Station Crash: Everything You Need to Know]
Spacecraft trackers with the Aerospace Corp. predict Tiangong-1 will fall to Earth between early morning March 30 and early morning April 2, with Easter Sunday (April 1) among the likely targets. Tiangong-1 is currently circling Earth about every 88 minutes at an average altitude of 134 miles (215 kilometers) — about half the altitude of the International Space Station — and getting lower each day.