China’s out of control space station, the Tiangong-1, finally fell into the fiery grip of earth’s atmosphere on Sunday night, reentering at approximately 8:16 p.m. EST somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.
“U.S. Strategic Command’s (USSTRATCOM) Joint Force Space Component Command (JFSCC), through the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC), confirmed Tiangong-1 reentered the Earth’s atmosphere over the southern Pacific Ocean at approximately 5:16 p.m. (PST) April 1, 2018,” the Air Force wrote in a statement. According to Air Force officials, JFSCC coordinated their tracking effort with similar military bodies from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, and the United Kingdom, as questions remained regarding where the space station would reenter right up until the final hours of its descent.
The 19,000 pound space station, first launched in 2011, has been on a collision course with earth since at least March 21, 2016, when the Chinese government publicly acknowledged that they had lost their telemetry link with the station, meaning it was now complete out of their control. The 18,000 pound space craft was in an uncontrolled and deteriorating orbit ever since, but because of the immense speed in which it traveled around the earth, it was difficult to assess just where it might reenter over — prompting concerns that any debris that survives reentry could cause damage upon impact.
While it does appear that a fair amount of the Tiangong-1 may have survived the immense heat created by the friction of reentry, any debris that remained appears to have fallen harmlessly into the Pacific, “out in the middle of nowhere, which is exactly where we hoped it would land,” according Roger Thompson, a senior engineering specialist with Aerospace Corp. of El Segundo, California. Their outfit has worked alongside NASA tracking the space station since they first announced a loss of control in 2016.