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An Out-of-control Chinese Space Station is Falling Towards The Earth! Should we be Worrying About Tiangong-1?

Scientists speculate that parts of Tiangong-1, weighing as much as 100kg may crash on the Earth’s surface.

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Tiangong-1
Tiangong-1 was used for multiple manned and un-manned space missions before authorities lost control of the Chinese space station (representative image) Wikimedia

China, October 16, 2017: An out of control Chinese space station, weighing 8.5 tonnes, is falling towards the Earth and will crash land on the surface within a few months, experts say.

The Chinese space laboratory, Tiangong-1, or the ‘Heavenly Palace’ was launched in 2011, symbolic of the hopes of the Chinese ambitions in space. It was also believed to be a stepping stone to establish China as a global ‘space’ superpower.

Tiangong-1 was used for multiple space missions, some of which even included astronauts – the space station was also visited by the first female astronaut from China, Liu Yang, in 2012.

Harvard astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell has now revealed that the space station is descending quickly to the earth and will crash on the planet’s surface ‘soon’.

The ‘Out of Control’ Tiangong-1

Scientists had long speculated the strange behavior of Tiangong-1. Finally, in 2016, officials at China’s CNSA space agency had confirmed that they had lost complete manned control of Tiangong-1 and that the space station would now be descending towards the Earth.

According to The Guardian, McDowell was quoted as saying “(we) expect it will come down a few months from now – late 2017 or early 2018.” 

Where Will Tiangong-1 Crash?

At the moment, is practically impossible for scientists and engineers to confirm about the precise landing site as the capsule is completely beyond human control.

Researchers believe the descent is now going to be guided and influenced by the wind.

The industry enthusiast Jonathan McDowell had previously told The Guardian that even a slight change in the atmospheric conditions could push the landing site “from one continent to the next.”

Does The Crash-Landing of Tiangong-1 Pose A Threat To Life?

Tiangong-1 is expected to hit the Earth’s surface is late 2017 or early 2018.

Scientists are also examining the possibility of the debris from the craft causing casualties upon landing. While most of the craft is expected to burn up in the atmosphere, parts weighing as much as 100kg can be expected to crash on the Earth’s surface.

ALSO READ China launched its 1st unmanned Cargo Spacecraft on a mission to dock with the country’s space station

The possibility of the debris from Tiangong-1 falling in populated regions cannot be precisely calculated, however authorities believe that is likely to not happen.

In May this year, China had additionally informed the United Nations “Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space” that the descent of the space craft will be closely monitored and the United Nations will be duly informed when it takes it final plunge.

Tiangong-1 will not be the first to descend from the space with parts of the debris falling on the Earth. Previously,

  • 1979: NASA’s gigantic Skylab space station, weighing 77-tonne uncontrollably shot down to the Earth with large chunks of the craft landing near Perth in Western Australia.
  • 1991: Soviet Union’s Salyut 7 space station, weighing 20-tonne had crashed to the Earth while it was still docked to another spacecraft called Cosmos 1686 and had broken up over Argentina, throwing debris all over the town Capitán Bermúdez.

Tiangong-1 had been launched on 29 September, 2011, as a long-term mission, with an aim to establish a Chinese outpost in space. However, the out of control Chinese space station is now expected to crash land on the Earth ‘soon’.

Next Story

Concerns Rise Over China’s Stand at United Nations Human Rights Council

China has passed human rights reviews twice before this one, while more than 120 countries Beijing's human rights record during the most recent process.

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The 22nd session of the U.N. Human Rights Council meets in Geneva on Feb. 25, 2013. RFA

Rights activists are increasingly worried that Beijing’s influence operations are having a negative impact on the work of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which concludes its 40th session on Friday.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) China director Sophie Richardson warned in an article this week that China is seeking to undermine the mission of the U.N. Human Rights Council from within.

She also cited HRW research in 2017 which reported threats and harassment of U.N. staff involved in human rights evaluation by Chinese officials.

“As we head towards the final phase of [China’s U.N. human rights review], ask yourself: What other government threatens #humanrights treaty body experts?” Richardson tweeted on Thursday.

“As an [Human Rights Council] member #China is expected to uphold highest standards,” she wrote in another tweet, referencing a report in The New York Times. “Instead it tells people that merely attending an event is a ‘hostile act.'”

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During the recent round, the Chinese government said it accepted most of the 346 human rights recommendations put forward by the council. VOA

According to HRW’s 2017 article based on a 97-page report: “Chinese officials have at times harassed and intimidated U.N. staff, experts on treaty bodies, and independent experts focusing on specific human rights issues.”

The 2014 death in detention of activist Cao Shunli, who was detained on her way to a U.N. human rights event in Geneva, also sent a “chilling” message to Chinese activists who may want to participate in the U.N. human rights process, the article said.

HRW isn’t the only human rights organization worried about Chinese influence at the U.N.

Renee Xia, who heads the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network, reported from a side-event of the Human Rights Council conference in Geneva this week that it was “standing room only.”

“Strong show of interest despite #China urging countries not to attend,” Xia tweeted.

“The strong attendance was more remarkable esp. after #China officials went to many countries’ diplomats at the U.N., Geneva, to threaten them with “serious consequences” if they attended the side events,” she wrote in another tweet.

“#Bullying at the UN must stop!” she wrote.

‘So many restrictions’

Wang Dan, a former leader of the 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement on Tiananmen Square, is also in Geneva this week.

“To tell you the truth, my feelings during my two days here are that China has huge influence at the U.N.,” Wang told RFA.

“For example, at one side-event, it wasn’t just the Chinese delegation who spoke against [criticisms of Beijing’s rights record], but other countries came to speak in support of China’s position,” he said.

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“Many of the countries participating in the Human Rights Council are actually the ones that are carrying out the most violations of human rights, Pixabay

Wang said tight controls over public speech also make it less likely that the ruling Chinese Communist Party will have to face criticism of human rights violations coming from within its own borders.

“There are a lot of people online in China, but they are under so many restrictions,” he said. “You can’t mention the Tiananmen Massacre. You can’t mention [late Nobel peace laureate and political prisoner] Liu Xiaobo. You can’t say this, you can’t say that.”

“I don’t think that’s how you define freedom … but then the Chinese point to the U.N. charter, which says that all member states must be respected,” he said.

‘Autocratic rule the default’

Veteran New York-based rights activist Liu Qing said the work of the council had become “unrecognizable” to him.

“Many of the countries participating in the Human Rights Council are actually the ones that are carrying out the most violations of human rights,” Liu told RFA.

“The only purpose of these countries in insinuating themselves into the Human Rights Council is to curb the positive role of the Human Rights Council and make autocratic rule the default setting on the international stage,” he said.

Amnesty International blogger Shao Jiang wrote in December 2018 that Beijing is reinterpreting universal human rights as merely the right to survival, freedom to access food, and regards other definitions of human rights as secondary to trade and economic development.

“The Chinese government has appointed government officials as independent experts into the UN’s Human Rights Council Advisory Committee, and the U.N. treaty bodies,” Shao said.

China has passed human rights reviews twice before this one, while more than 120 countries Beijing’s human rights record during the most recent process.

During the recent round, the Chinese government said it accepted most of the 346 human rights recommendations put forward by the council.

Also Read: Myanmar Government Calls Ethnic Armed Groups To Attend Collective Peace Discussions For The First Time

The United Nations now reports annually on government reprisals against human rights defenders participating in U.N. human rights efforts, Richardson wrote in an article in The Hill last December.

“China has topped the list of offenders in every report issued,” she said. (RFA)