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China's Tiangong-1 space station is expected to fall to Earth in 2017, but don't worry

China's Tiangong-1 space station is expected to fall to Earth in 2017, but don't worry


Most parts of the space lab will burn in the atmosphere

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China Launches Its First Space Laboratory Module Tiangong-1
Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

China’s space station Tiangong-1 is expected to fall to Earth and burn up in the planet’s atmosphere sometime in late 2017, The Guardian reports. The news was announced last week and seems to confirm rumors that China has lost control of the 8-ton unmanned space lab because of some mechanical or technical failure.

"Based on our calculation and analysis, most parts of the space lab will burn up during falling," the deputy director of the manned space engineering office, Wu Ping, was quoted as saying by the news agency Xinhua.

Some dense parts like the station’s engines, however, could pierce through the atmosphere and hit our planet, Harvard astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell told The Guardian. The pieces could land anywhere between latitude 43N and 43S, McDowell noted on Twitter. (That’s an area that includes most of North America, parts of Europe and Asia, and all of South America, Africa, and Oceania.)

Satellites and space stations reenter our atmosphere all the time once their mission is over or they run out of life. The only difference with the Tiangong-1 space station is that if it’s true that China lost control of it, the space lab won’t reenter in a controlled way. That means officials won’t be able to decide where it hits the atmosphere. But China will be closely monitoring the station before it makes its uncontrolled descent, Wu said.

Don't worry too much about the parts that won't burn up on reentry. More than 70 percent of our planet is covered by the ocean, so chances are the debris will likely fall in the water. And if it hits land, it will likely be in an area that’s isn't populated.