Tiangong-1, or "Heavenly Palace", was placed into orbit in September 2011, acting as a testing ground for China's efforts to put a permanent space station into orbit around 2022. Their outfit has worked alongside NASA tracking the space station since they first announced a loss of control in 2016. The original plan was to fire up Tiangong-1's engines and propel the spacecraft out of orbit, so that it safely fell into open ocean.
Beijing admitted it lost control of the module four years later and said they would not be able to perform a reentry.
But for a long time, the exact return point was closely followed.
The last space outpost to drop was Russia's 135-ton Mir station in 2001, which made a controlled landing with most parts breaking up in the atmosphere. But this spacecraft was large and multilayered enough that it was possible at least some segments or parts would survive the reentry. In fact, a person's lifetime risk of getting hit by space debris is one in 1 trillion, according to the Aerospace Corporation, a nonprofit that provides research and guidance on space missions.
If a massive space station falls out of the atmosphere into the Pacific Ocean, with no one there to witness it, does it make a sound? A safe ending to Tiangong 1's unintended journey back to Earth. Pacific time on Sunday, according to the U.S. Strategic Command's Joint Force Space Component Command.
Brad Tucker, an astrophysicist at Australian National University, said the tumbling and spinning made the re-entry location harder to predict.
China's defunct space laboratory has returned to Earth, with pieces apparently splashing down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of South America.
Tiangong-1 was originally launched in 2011. Space experts lauded it as an important achievement.
Tiangong-1 was visited by two crews of taikonauts, or Chinese astronauts.
Space officials had said that the 10.4m-long craft's atmospheric disintegration would offer a splendid show akin to a meteor shower. After several manned missions, including Senzhou 9 and Senzhou 10, it remained unmanned since 2013 and without contact since 2016, which is when the Chinese terminated all data operations and relinquished control over the station. Normally, a space agency will retire a satellite by purposely guiding it into the atmosphere, at an angle and speed such that it burns up completely or re-enters Earth's atmosphere far from human populations.
"Tiangong-1 will go down in China's space history".