Chinese Space Lab Finally Plummets Back To Earth

Space officials had warned that knowing the exact location of the re-entry would not be possible until shortly before it happened.

It said in a statement it had confirmed re-entry in coordination with counterparts in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Britain.

Leroy Chiao, a former USA astronaut who flew on four space missions, told CNN he would be "surprised if any major pieces survived the re-entry, as the Tiangong-1 was not that big of a spacecraft as they go, and it did not have a heat shield".

In its lifetime it was involved in six rendezvous and docking missions with manned Shenzhou spacecraft, and made "significant contributions to the development of China's manned space mission" space authorities said.

The re-entry window remains "highly variable", the ESA cautioned.

"Most of the parts burnt up and disappeared", Geng said adding that China kept the United Nations space agency informed about the situation. The calculations on the place and the time of the re-entry have varied widely in the last few hours because the space laboratory was falling out of control, so all estimates were imprecise.

The module - which was used to practise complicated manual and automatic docking techniques - was originally meant to be used for just two years, but ended up serving considerably longer. A second space lab, Tiangong-2, was launched in 2016. Space enthusiasts have been bracing for its fiery return since.

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Experts have downplayed any concerns about the Tiangong-1 causing any damage when it hurtles back to Earth, with the ESA noting that almost 6,000 uncontrolled re-entries of large objects have occurred over the past 60 years without harming anyone.

The out-of-control Chinese space station that is set to crash into earth over the Easter weekend will put on a "splendid show" like a meteor shower, according to experts. During its lifespan, it successfully docked with three spacecraft.

Chinese media have downplayed comments by the ESA and others that the country's engineers have lost control of the lab, with reports saying that the idea it is "out of control" is an invention of foreign media.

The unmanned space lab was launched in September 2011 as a prototype for China's ultimate space goal: a permanent space station that is expected to launch around 2022.

A mission to land another rover on Mars and bring back samples is set to launch in 2020, while China also plans to become the first country to soft-land a probe on the far side of the moon.

Chinese space authorities say the defunct Tiangong 1 mostly burned up upon re-entering the Earth's atmosphere in the central South Pacific.

  • Myrtle Hill