China’s prototype space station, Tiangong-1 or “heavenly place,” is falling to Earth and could re-enter the atmosphere as soon as this week.
While most of the eight-ton spacecraft is expected to burn up as it plummets through the atmosphere, there is a chance some of it will survive all the way down to the surface.
Should I Be Worried?
No. The chances of being hit by part of the space station are basically zero.
About 70% of the Earth is covered with water and most of the rest of it is sparsely populated. If any of the space station does reach the surface, it is incredibly unlikely it will hit any person, let alone you. In 1997, a woman was struck on the shoulder by an object, believed to be part of a Delta rocket. But she was not injured. She is thought to be the only person ever struck by spaceship debris.
In terms of size, Tiangong-1 is only the 50th largest spacecraft to come down, and there have been no recorded deaths or injuries from people being struck by debris from any of them. The largest uncontrolled entry was SkyLab, the 77-ton US space station, which disintegrated over Western Australia. It didn’t injure anyone but large parts of it were later collected.
China has not released all the details about the design of Tiangong-1, so it is not possible to say how much of it will survive re-entry. In 2011 Nasa calculated the chance of a smaller 6.5-ton object striking someone was about one in 3,200. That means the chance it would hit any particular person — you, for example — is about one in 21 trillion. It is hard to imagine a more unlikely way to die.
Where Is It Most Likely To Crash?
It is orbiting at about 27,000km/h, so a…