KL listed among po­ten­tial crash zones of Tian­gong-1 early next year

New Straits Times - - Front Page - TEH ATHIRA YUSOF KUALA LUMPUR news@nst.com.my

DE­BRIS from China’s de­or­bit­ing space sta­tion Tian­gong-1 might hit Kuala Lumpur 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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