According to Aerospace Corp., which is one of the organizations tracking the path of the crippled Tiangong-1, the estimated time of impact is 10 a.m. EST Sunday.
The tougher question to answer is exactly where it will strike because of how the 9.5-ton hunk of space junk will react to its fiery re-entry into the atmosphere, experts said. The best estimate, according to Aerospace, is somewhere along a strip within the US that stretches from Northern California to Pennsylvania – an area that includes southern Michigan. The Wolverine state is taking no chances. Gov. Rick Snyder has activated Michigan’s Emergency Operations Center to monitor the satellite’s re-rentry.
“While most of the space station is expected to burn up during re-entry, there is concern that debris could make landfall,” according to a statement from Snyder’s office, MLive.com reported.
“While the chances are slim that any of the debris will land in Michigan, we are monitoring the situation and are prepared to respond quickly if it does,” said Capt. Chris Kelenske, deputy state director of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. “The state will rely on its existing satellite re-entry response and recovery plan for any necessary response protocols,” he added.
Meanwhile, China said Friday that it has been in close touch with the United Nations about the space lab – though the Foreign Ministry stressed that it is unlikely that any large parts will even reach the ground. Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters that his government had been continually informing the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs of the latest information about the 34-foot-long craft, Reuters reported.
China had been responsible and transparent, Lu said. “If there is a need, we will promptly be in touch with the relevant country,” he said. “As to what I have heard, at present the chances of large fragments falling to the ground are not very great, the probability is extremely small.”
Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, estimated that Tiangong-1 is the 50th most massive uncontrolled re-entry of a spacecraft since 1957 “Much bigger things have come down with no casualties,” McDowell told Agence France-Presse. “This thing is like a small plane crash.”
At an altitude of between about 38 and 43 miles, debris will begin to turn into “a series of fireballs”, which is when Earthlings will “see a spectacular show,” he said. The odds of actually being hit by a piece from the satellite are less than 1 in 300 trillion – meaning people have 1 million better odds of winning the Power ball jackpot, according to TechTimes.com.
But in case you come across what you suspect is debris from Tiangong-1, stay at least 150 feet away from it because it may contain hydra-zine, which is highly toxic and corrosive. Tiangong-1, or “Heavenly Palace 1”, was launched into orbit in 2011 to carry out docking and orbit experiments as part of China’s plans to place a permanent station in orbit by 2023.
President Xi Jinping has called for Beijing to become a global space power with both advanced civilian space flight and capabilities that strengthen its national security.