A mere three months after the Tiangong-1 made a fiery re-entry into our atmosphere and fell to its doom, it’s sister craft, Tiangong-2, looks like it’s about to do the same. The Chinese spacecraft was reported dropping 60 miles in its orbit around the Earth.
Tiangong-2 could have a more controlled descent than its predecessor, however, which was flung back into Earth’s atmosphere puzzling scientists until it made the impact. No one should be concerned about getting squashed by Tiangong-1’s erratic path, but with its impact right around the corner, scientists are having an incredibly difficult time narrowing down the spot where they think it could hit, according to The Daily Mail before the first Chinese space station fell back to Earth.
In October 2017, Chinese astronauts spent a 30-day stay on the station – China’s longest stay in space.
US strategic command made Tiangong-2’s 60-mile drop public prompting fears that another Chinese spacecraft will impact the planet. However, it only remained at that altitude for ten days before returning to its normal orbit altitude. Its Joint Space Operations Center, located at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, claims the station lowered from an altitude of between 236 and 240 miles (380 to 386 km) to between 181 to 185 miles (292 to 297 km) on June 13.
Experts are in agreement that China is attempting to decommission the Tiangong-2 space station in a more controlled manner than their previous one. China’s controlled thrust tests hint at a desire to bring down the space station at the time of their choosing.
Speaking to SpaceNews, Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said: “It seems likely that the lowering of Tiangong-2’s orbit is the first step in safely disposing of it.”
Tiangong-2 was launched aboard a Long March 2F rocket on September 15, 2016. It is 34 ft (10.4 m) long, 14 ft (4.2 m) in diameter and has a mass of 19,000 lb (8,600 kg). The module is being used for “testing systems and processes for mid-term space stays and refueling,” according to the Chinese government.
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