DEBRIS from China’s de-orbiting space station Tiangong-1 might hit the capital here and other cities when it enters into its fiery final plunge through the Earth’s atmosphere sometime early next year.

China’s first space station, which means Heavenly Palace, was launched in September 2011, and had hosted a number of Chinese astronauts, called “taikonauts” during its two-year operational career. It has been unmanned since 2013.

Reports by local dailies said that the space station’s orbit is decaying and the 8.5-tonne spacecraft is expected to re-enter the atmosphere, between January and March. Reports say that Kuala Lumpur lies smack in the space station’s orbital trajectory and is a potential crash zone.

Experts have also said that the space station is suffering from a host of mechanical and technical problems.

As a result, ground control has no real control over how it will be de-orbited. China’s manned space agency’s deputy director Wu Ping confirmed that Tiangong-1 will re-enter the atmosphere.

He said while the bulk of the space station would burn up during re-entry, some components that were built to withstand extremes in temperature might survive the plunge.

“During re-entry, a huge chunk of the space station will most likely disintegrate,” he was quoted in a report.

Chinese officials have been working with other international space agencies and will release a forecast of the projected impact points, if possible.

However, reports quoting Harvard astrophysicists Jonathan McDowell said since the space station was no longer under ground control, there was no way to positively determine the exact impact points and when the space station would come down.

“We will only be aware of the landing time six or seven hours before it actually happens.

“This also means that we cannot pinpoint the exact impact zones,” he was quoted as saying.

McDowell said components that survived the descent could weigh as much as 100kg. Damage caused by components at that mass and velocity could be considerable.

Tiangong-1 was the first prototype space station launched by China’s National Space Administration (CNSA) from its launch complex in Jiuquan, Gansu Province.

Prior to this, there were other cases of space debris falling to Earth, notably the Kosmos 954, Skylab, and Mir, but no casualties were reported. 

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