April 2 (UPI) — Tiangong-1, China’s out-of-control space station, fell back to Earth Monday — splashing harmlessly into the middle of the South Pacific.
China Manned Space Engineering Office said the space lab mostly burned up in the atmosphere before it reached the surface.
U.S. Strategic Command’s Joint Force Space Component Command confirmed the crash, using Space Surveillance Network sensors and their orbital analysis system.
“The JFSCC works alongside government, industry and international partners to track and report reentries, to include today’s Tiangong-1 reentry, because the space domain is vital to our shared international security interests,” Maj. Gen. Stephen Whiting said in a statement.
For days, astronomers had been unsure where the decommissioned space station would fall, citing several factors — including how the station tumbles and breaks up, variations in the gravitational field of a landmass or ocean, solar radiation pressure and atmospheric drag.
Astrophysicist Brad Tucker of Australian National University called Tiangong 1’s re-entry “mostly successful.”
“It could have been better, obviously, if it wasn’t tumbling, but it landed in the Southern Pacific Ocean, and that’s kind of where you hope it would land,” Tucker said.
Professor Timothy Horbury of London’s Imperial College said it was unlikely anyone would be harmed by debris from the space station.
“No one has ever been hurt by a piece of debris landing from space. The Earth is very large so the likelihood someone will get hurt is very low,” Horbury told Newsweek.
Launched in 2011, Tiangong-1 ended service in March 2016. The space station docked with the Shenzhou-8, Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 spacecraft and made important contributions to China’s space cause.
Beijing said it lost control of the station in 2015 and couldn’t perform a planned re-entry.