8.5 tonne China Space Station to crash into Malaysia? How high is the possibility?

Written by Anis Adrina

Have you ever heard that China’s space station is going to crash into Earth? Recently, there has been many widespread speculations on social media, especially on Twitter that an 8.5 tonne space station owned by China, namely Tiangong-1 will be crashing into Malaysia and major cities in Kuala Lumpur could be the possible crash zones.

It all started when the Chinese news outlet reported that the Tiangong-1 could possibly crash into countries such as Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bangkok, Beijing, New York, Manila, and Tokyo. Such bizarre news came to light after Chinese officials announced in 2016, that the space station had lost control and would crash to the Earth between October 2017 and April 2018.

The China space station, Tiangong-1 or known as “Heavenly Palace” laboratory was launched in 2011 as China’s first space station. It was launched with the mission of pushing China to be a space superpower. This space station has recently shown signs to be out-of-control and descending towards Earth and therefore, is predicted to fall onto the Earth’s surface within these few months.

A tweet about the possibility of Tiangong crashing into Malaysia, shared by 14K Twitter accounts


Malaysia as a possible crash site?

As a response to the speculations, many local news agency has reported based on the statement issued by National Space Agency (Angkasa) director-general, Dr. Noordin Ahmad that the chances are very low for China’s space station, Tiangong-1 to crash into Malaysia.

Previously, in an article by Leonard David (2017) published in Space.com, The Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies (CORDS) made a prediction based on the inclination of Tiangong-1, whereby the laboratory will re-enter somewhere in Earth between 43 degrees North and 43 degrees South latitudes.

Therefore, Dr. Noordin Ahmad said that based on the calculations, the width of the area between latitudes of 43 degrees North to 43 degrees South involved many other countries such as Singapore, Australia, the United States and China. However, the possibility of Kuala Lumpur to be the crash site is approximately 0.0000699% as the size of Kuala Lumpur is about 243.65 square km, whereas the possibility for the whole of Malaysia would be about 0.09% as the total area of Malaysia is 329,960.22 square km.

Tiangong-1 expected to crash somewhere in Earth between October 2017 to April 2018.
Photo source: http://www.spaceflightinsider.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Tiangong-1.jpg


Will it crash on Earth as an 8.5 tonne space object?

As the “news” became viral on social media, the public are assuming that the large space station with its weight as heavy as 100 kg will fall onto Earth as what is it when it was first launched to space. However, did you know that space objects such as a space station and satellite will get burnt first as it enters the Earth’s atmosphere?

According to Channel News Asia, experts predict that most of the space station should burn up in the atmosphere but parts of the debris could still land on Earth. Hence, when it is crashing into Earth, it will be in the form of small pieces or debris that are less likely to harm living things, nor will it look exactly like the original space station when it was first launched.

However, based on The Guardian report, Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist from Harvard University said that some parts may still be as heavy as 100 kg when they reach the Earth’s surface. Despite the fact that Tiangong-1 debris could weigh 100 kg, the likeliness for people to be harmed by it is considered as highly unlikely and remote as it is likely to crash into sea.


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