The Tiangong-1, also known as Heavenly Palace 1, is a space station launched by China in 2011 as part of the country’s ambitious space programme. It lost contact with ground control in 2016 and crashed in the Pacific Ocean today. The 34.1-foot space station re-entered earth’s atmosphere and a “vast majority” of it burnt up in the process.
Why the hype surrounding its re-entry?
According to Chinese tabloid Global Times, the worldwide media hype surrounding the Tiangong-1 reflected overseas “envy” of China’s space industry.
“It’s normal for spacecraft to re-enter the atmosphere, yet Tiangong-1 received so much attention partly because some Western countries are trying to hype and sling mud at China’s fast-growing aerospace industry,” it said.
The huge interest surrounding the space station is partly due to the odds of any of the crash debris landing over civilian areas. The European Space Agency had earlier put down the probability of being hit by a piece of debris from the Tiangong-1 to “10 million times smaller than the yearly chance of being hit by lightning”.
Has anyone been struck by space debris?
Yes, in 1996, to be precise. Lottie Williams was struck on her shoulder by a piece of Delta II rocket while she was walking on the streets of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
OK, why else is it such a huge deal?
With China pushing for a permanent station in orbit by 2023, the Tiangong-1 was part of the process to carry out docking and orbit experiments.
The space station was officially to be decommissioned in 2013 but its operational life was repeatedly extended. It reportedly stopped functioning in 2016 and wasn’t responding to commands from ground control.
China, in a statement to the UN in 2017, said the Tiangong-1 would re-enter earth’s atmosphere by March 2018.
What are the Chinese saying on Twitter, erm, Weibo?
The Guardian reported that people in China have been sharing posts under the hashtag “Goodbye Tiangong”. One user wrote: “Goodbye Tiangong-1. You are our hero.”
While another was downright dismissive about the whole humbug. “Re-entry? Everyone knows it’s a crash.”