The chief designer of China’s space laboratories has denied Western media reports that the nation’s Tiangong I space lab was “out of control” and will crash land, according to Science and Technology Daily.
Zhu Zongpeng, a senior scientist with the China Academy of Space Technology, which has built the Tiangong series, told the Beijing newspaper that Chinese scientists are constantly monitoring Tiangong I and will “make it fall back to the Earth” in the first half of this year.
Parts of the spacecraft will burn out during re-entry, while the rest will fall into a designated area of the ocean without endangering people and property on the ground, he said.
The latest announcement on Tiangong I, published on the China Manned Space Agency’s website, said the space lab operated in an orbit with an average altitude of 286.5 kilometers from Dec 17 to 24, noting it was “in stable condition without any abnormalities”.
Pang Zhihao, a researcher of human space activity at the academy, told the newspaper that China has rich experience in steering retired spacecraft back to Earth. He said most parts of Tiangong I will burn up as the spacecraft re-enters the atmosphere.
The 8.5-metric-ton Tiangong I, the country’s first space lab, was launched atop a Long March 2F carrier rocket at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Northwestern China in September 2011. With a designated life span of two years, the spacecraft was in service for four and a half years before its retirement was announced by the Chinese space authorities in March 2016.
During its operation, the space lab conducted six automatic and astronaut-controlled dockings with the nation’s Shenzhou VIII, Shenzhou IX and Shenzhou X spacecraft.
A number of Western media have been speculating since 2016 that Tiangong I is “out of control” and that there is possibility of it crashing onto land with “remaining toxic fuel”.
In a note sent in May by China’s permanent mission to the United Nations in Vienna to the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, Chinese space authorities said Tiangong I’s operational orbit is under constant and close surveillance.
“According to the calculations and analysis that have been carried out, most of the structural components of Tiangong I will be destroyed as they burn up during the course of re-entry,” it read. “The probability of endangering and causing damage to aviation and ground activities is very low.”