This is not a joke! An out-of-control Chinese space station is hurtling towards our planet and could crash land on April Fool’s Day.
Space experts say the huge eight-and-a-half tonne mass, which is heavier than an African elephant and as big as a school bus, could hit a populated area in a worst-case scenario as it starts its fiery ascent into the Earth’s atmosphere.
Artist concept of Chinese Space Station Tiangong-1 in orbit.The Aerospace Corporation
Tiangong-1, also known as Heavenly Palace, launched without anyone aboard on Sept. 29, 2011. Settled into an orbit about 350 km above Earth — a little lower than the International Space Station, whose average altitude is 400 km.
Tiangong-1 won’t be the biggest spacecraft ever to fall uncontrolled from the sky. Tiangong-1 was designed to function for just two years, originally, Chinese officials had said they planned to de-orbit Tiangong-1 in a controlled fashion. But in March 2016, China announced that Tiangong-1 had stopped sending data back. So, a controlled re-entry was off the table and the space lab would tumble down to earth.
Tiangong-1 will likely fall from orbit sometime between March 29 and April 4, according to Andrew Abraham, a senior member of the technical staff at the Aerospace Corporation. Most of the spacelab will break apart and burn up in Earth’s atmosphere, but some of the bigger pieces might survive the fall.
The space agency has previously said the chance of being struck by Tiangong-1 debris is about 1 million times smaller than the odds of winning the U.S. Powerball jackpot.
Image: Fraunhofer / Source: Space.com