A Chinese space station will smash into the Earth later than expected due to changes in the sun’s predicted activity, the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Space Debris Office in Germany predicted.
Tiangong-1 is now set to enter the Earth’s atmosphere on April 1 at 12:15pm EDT (16:15 GMT), according to the Aerospace Corp.
ESA officials said: “A high-speed stream of particles from the sun, which was expected to reach Earth and influence our planet’s geomagnetic field, did, in fact, not have any effect, and calmer space weather around Earth and its atmosphere is now expected in the coming days.
“This means that the density of the upper atmosphere, through which Tiangong-1 is moving, did not increase as predicted (which would have dragged the spacecraft down sooner), and hence the ESA Space Debris Office has adjusted the predicted decay rate.”
Tiangong-1’s orbit takes the station very close to Earth’s atmosphere.
The exact location where Tiangong-1 will crash is still unknown.
However, the ESA claim that the Chinese satellite’s re-entry will take place somewhere between latitudes 43 degrees North and 43 degrees South.
This area covers parts of the United States, all of Central America and most of southern America.
In Europe, the potential re-entry reaches as far north as Spain.
It also covers the entire continent of Africa, the majority of China and all of India.
All of South East Asia and most of Australia also remain at risk.
The China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) has been keeping records on the Tiangong-1 and reported that it stayed at an average altitude of around 196.4km.
At the end of 2017 CMSA reported the Chinese spacecraft held an average altitude of 283.8km.
Jesse Gossner, an orbital mechanics engineer who teaches at the US Air Force’s Advanced Space Operations School said the uncertainty over when the space station will hit Earth is because of the nature of the planet’s atmosphere and how high-speed objects behave in it.
He said: “You’d be surprised just how inaccurate and random it is because of the atmosphere. Have you ever skipped a stone on a lake?
“It bounces a few times, then eventually goes into the water.
“This thing can bounce off the atmosphere because it’s going so fast. If it hits on its smooth side, sort of like a rock skipping on a lake, it’ll bounce.
“But if it hits on a pointy end, or on one end of a cylinder, in the direction of the velocity, it could dig in.”