China’s defunct space lab, Tiangong-1, is scheduled to re-enter Earth over the weekend, the media reported on Friday.
At over 10m in length and weighing more than 8 tonnes, it is larger than most of the man-made objects that routinely re-enter Earth’s atmosphere, reports the BBC.
China has lost all communication with the module and so the descent will be uncontrolled.
However, experts have said that there was very low risk that any parts of Tiangong that do not burn up will hit a populated area.
“Given Tiangong-1 has a larger mass and is more robust, as it is pressurised, than many other space objects that return uncontrolled to Earth from space, it is the subject of a number of radar tracking campaigns,” Richard Crowther, the UK Space Agency’s chief engineer, told the BBC.
“The majority of the module can be expected to burn up during re-entry heating, with the greatest probability being that any surviving fragments will fall into the sea,” he added.
Launched in 2011 and visited by six Chinese astronauts, Tiangong was supposed to have been de-orbited in a planned manner.
The intention was to use its thrusters to drive the vehicle towards a remote zone over the Southern Ocean. But all command links were abruptly lost in 2016, and now nothing could be done to direct the fall.
Thirteen space agencies, under the leadership of the European Space Agency, were now following Tiangong’s path around the globe, modelling its behaviour as it descends deeper into atmosphere.