China’s first experimental space station, the Tiangong-1,was launched in 2011 as a test bed for manned orbital operations and advanced docking and rendezvous procedures. The 34 foot long, nearly 20,000 pound space station performed well, according to reports in the Chinese media, until March of 2016, when it was announced that China had lost contact with, and control over, the platform.
Ever since then, it’s just been a waiting game to see when, and where the space station would come tumbling back to earth. According to telemetry data, it would appear the when could be very soon… but the where remains a bit of a mystery.
Based on an analysis provided by the European Space Agency (ESA), the Tiangong-1 space station is now expected to reenter the earth’s atmosphere sometime between March 29th and April 9th – though that window of time offers little clue as to what part of the globe the space station will actually reenter over. Because the space station is traveling in an uncontrolled descent at an estimated rate of 16,000 miles per hour, it will circle the globe completely multiple times within the projected window of reentry.
The one thing we are able to predict is that range of latitude lines the reentry will likely fall within. Following its current orbital trajectory, the space station should come down “anywhere between 43ºN and 43ºS,” though the ESA reports that it’s more likely to be closer to the 43º lines on either side than between them.