Tuesday, 13 March 2018

One month left for Tiangong-1 [UPDATED]

Note: a daily updated post with reentry estimates for Tiangong-1 is here.

image (c) Alain Figer, used with permission

The beautiful image above (used with kind permission) was made by Alain Figer and shows the Chinese Space Station TIANGONG-1 over the French Alps on 27 November 2017.

Tiangong ("Heavenly Palace") 1 was launched on 29 Sept 2011. It was the first Chinese Space Station and was visited by Taikonauts twice, first by the crew of Shenzou 9 in June 2012 and then by the crew of Shenzou 10 in June 2013: six Taikonauts in total.

All eyes are currently on this Chinese Space Station, as it is about to re-enter. Since the station was shutdown in 2016, it has steadily come down, especially so the past year and months. Its orbital altitude has currently descended below 250 km (it currently is ~240 km, with apogee at 251 km and perigee at 229 km on 2018 March 13):

click diagram to enlarge

click diagram to enlarge

Using SatAna and SatEvo, and under the assumption that the re-entry will be completely uncontrolled, I currently estimate it to re-enter one month from now, somewhere between April 7 and April 21  April 1 and April 12.

EDIT:  daily updated re-entry predictions are in a dedicated post here

The station has an orbital inclination of 42.8 degrees, and hence can come down anywhere between 42.8 N and 42.8 S. The map below shows the area that is at risk:

click map to enlarge

Note that newspaper accounts (e.g. this one) that single out a particular area as being at particular risk, are nonsense: At this stage, a month before re-entry, it is impossible to pinpoint a region. That will only be possible during the hours just before actual re-entry (and even then...).

The station has a mass of about 8500 kg and measures 3.35 x 10.4 meter. It is hence a large and heavy object, which is why this re-entry is of concern. It is likely that parts will survive the re-entry and reach Earth surface intact.

Land masses inside the risk zone include southern Eurasia, Australia, Africa, South and Middle America and the United States. It is however most likely that the re-entry will be over an ocean.

As can be seen from the map above, my own country, the Netherlands, is well outside the risk zone.

I will follow the orbital evolution and re-entry predictions for Tiangong-1 on this blog as they evolve.

Tiangong-1 image on 18 July 2017 by Alexandre Amorim from Brazil
this is a stack of 4 separate images
(image (c) Alexandre Amorim, used with permission)

NOTE: new reentry estimates, updated daily, are consolidated in this new blog post.

1 comment:

Kevin White said...

Excellent, thanks. Are you able to access the apogee and perigee data prior to 1/1/2017? It would be nice to see that back to the last time it was boosted. I say that without any idea how much effort it takes to get access to that data.