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China’s ‘out of control’ spacelab plunges back to Earth, breaks up over South Pacific

The Tiangong-1 ‘mostly’ burnt up above the vast ocean’s central region at 8.15 am, China’s Manned Space Engineering Office said, moments after predicting a slightly later re-entry over the Atlantic.

world Updated: Apr 02, 2018 18:35 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times, Beijing
Chinese spacelab,Tiangong-1,Chinese space station
Tiangong-1 - was placed in orbit in September 2011, an important step in China’s efforts towards building its own space station.(Photo: CMSA)

Debris from China’s experimental space station crashed into the South Pacific region after entering the earth’s orbit on Monday morning, scientists have said.

Tiangong-1 re-entered the earth’s atmosphere at around 8.15 am, scientists from the China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO) said. The space lab had been stationed some 340 km above the earth since 2011.

“It re-entered in the central region of the South Pacific,” the CMSEO said in a statement.

State media, quoting the Beijing Aerospace Control Centre — which was monitoring the path of the falling space lab — said most of the 8 tonne station burnt up in the atmosphere. Reports said parts of the debris could have fallen northwest of Tahiti.

The official Xinhua news agency published a lengthy article – bordering on the lines of an obituary – to mark the end of the journey for the station.

“As Tiangong-1 re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere on Monday, China bade farewell to the experimental space lab and pathfinder for its space station,” the article said.

Tiangong-1 was launched on September 29, 2011 and stopped working in March 2016. Giving details of its life span, the Xinhua article said the space station was launched from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China and tested docking technology to prepare the way for the coming space station.

“It docked with Shenzhou-8, Shenzhou-9, and Shenzhou-10 spacecraft. Six astronauts — four men and two women — spent time in the lab,” the article said.

In June 2013, China’s first woman astronaut Wang Yaping famously broadcast physics lessons to students on earth from the lab. She spoke to some 330 primary and middle school students at a Beijing high school through a live video feed system, with more than 60 million students and teachers at about 80,000 middle schools watching the broadcast on TV.

“Although Tiangong-1 was only a transitional platform between the spaceship and space station, it was key to our development of docking technology, and demonstrated the possibility of long stays in space for Chinese astronauts. The fervour aroused among Chinese is invaluable,” Bai Ruixue, CEO of a commercial space education project, told Xinhua.

First Published: Apr 02, 2018 07:41 IST