Tiangong-1: China’s space lab plummets to earth, burns up over Pacific Ocean
China’s out-of-control Tiangong-1 space lab has re-entered Earth’s atmosphere, landing in middle of the South Pacific Ocean near world’s ‘spacecraft cemetery or graveyard’. Most of its parts were burned up during gravity-propelled re-entry process.
The spacecraft cemetery also known as Point Nemo — considered the most remote place on Earth (at about 2400 km from any spot of land). It often used to crash-land defunct satellites. Between 1971 and mid-2016, space agencies all over the world have dumped between 260 and 300 spacecraft into the region.
Tiangong-1 (Heavenly Palace or Celestial Palace-1) was China’s first prototype space station or space laboratory. It was placed in orbit in September 2011 as part of China’s efforts towards building its own space station independent and unconnected to any other international space-active countries. It weighed aroung 8,506 kg and was having length 10.4 m and diameter of 3.35 m.
During its lifespan, Tiangong-1 had served as both manned laboratory and experimental testbed to demonstrate orbital rendezvous and docking capabilities during its active operational life. It was first operational component of Tiangong program, which aims to place a larger, modular station into orbit by 2023, the time when US-led International Space Station is expected to go out of service. It also tested docking systems and other technology needed for larger, multi-module space station to be built in 2020s.
Tiangong-1 was originally planned to be decommissioned in 2013 but its mission was repeatedly extended. It reportedly stopped functioning in 2016 and wasn’t responding to commands from ground control, leading some experts to suggest the space laboratory was out of control. China has launched a second lab, Tiangong-2 in 2017 which continues to be operational.