It’s been hard to predict the precise moment when Tiangong-1 will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere, and where it will break up into pieces before it lands.
On the other hand, the European Space Agency (ESA) had said that Tiangong-1 would break up over water.
It’s likely that debris is scattered over a long stretch of the Pacific in that region.
The remnants of Tiangong-1 appeared to have landed about 100 km (62 miles) northwest of Tahiti, said Brad Tucker, an astrophysicist at Australian National University. While original plans called for a controlled reentry of the module at the end of the mission, Chinese officials reported in 2016 that it ended communications with Tiangong-1.
Tiangong-1 – or “Heavenly Palace” – was placed in orbit in September 2011, an important step in China’s efforts towards building its own space station. The space station serves as both a manned laboratory and an experimental testbed to demonstrate orbital rendezvous and docking capabilities during its two years of active operational life.
And, as astronomer, Jonathan McDowell pointed out, Tiangong-1 just missed the south Pacific’s “spacecraft cemetery” – a remote stretch of ocean that’s often used for space craft crash landings.
The eight-tonne space lab’s re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere had previously been predicted to happen some time “between March 31 and April 4, 2018”, according to the China Manned Space Engineering Office on March 26.
The European Space Agency predicts Tiangong 1’s re-entry will take place two hours either side of 2.07am BST on Monday (9.07pm on Sunday in NY and 11.07am on Monday in Sydney).
A safe ending to Tiangong 1’s unintended journey back to Earth. “The fervor aroused among Chinese is invaluable”, said Bai Ruixue, a former space journalist and now CEO of a commercial space education project.
The craft’s launch was intended for China’s space program to test run a working orbiting space station. JFSCC tracked the Chinese space station with the help of assets from Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Germany, United Kingdom, and South Korea. The station featured two modules – one for solar panels and engines, and one for a habitable area for astronauts. In September 2016 the Tiangong-2 space lab was successfully launched and put into orbit. A third astronaut slept in the Shenzhou spaceships that docked with the station, which also contained facilities for personal hygiene and food preparation.