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People's Daily Online

China's returning space lab poses no risk to Earth: top Chinese engineer

People's Daily Online

(People's Daily Online) 17:03, January 08, 2018

Chinese scientists on Monday dismissed rumors of possible dangers caused by the country's retired space station Tiangong-1, noting that most of its components will burn up safely while re-entering earth, posing no threat to Earth.

"We've been keeping an eye on Tiangong-1's movement. The space lab is expected to return to the Earth in the first half of 2018, with most of its components being burning up during the course of its re-entry. What is left of the space lab will fall into the ocean, without causing damage to the Earth's surface," Zhu Congpeng, chief designer of the Tiangong-2 space lab, told the Science and Technology Daily.

The remarks are China's latest response to the rumors that the retired space station may pose an environmental threat to earth. Several Western media outlets, including CNN and The Guardian, have reported that the space lab is "out of control" and that pieces weighing up to 100 kg could fall to the surface when the space lab breaks apart.

Chinese experts and engineers have dismissed such reports, noting that China has rich experience in controlling falling spacecraft. According to statistics from China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO), the last controlled fall took place in September 2017, when Tianzhou 1, China's unmanned cargo spacecraft, successfully plunged into Earth's atmosphere and burned up after a series of braking maneuvers by ground control.

"Unlike reusable spacecraft, a controlled descent requires the space station to burn as much as possible when entering the atmosphere. Compared to Mir, Russia's 20-tonne space station, which safely plunged to Earth in 2001, almost all of the 8.5-tonne Tiangong-1 will burn up," said space expert Pang Zhihao.

Chinese authorities have been making promises to keep a close eye on the re-entry of Tiangong-1. According to a note sent to UN in May 2017 by the Permanent Mission of China to the UN, Chinese authorities reiterated that the probability of the re-entry causing damage to aviation and ground activities is very low, and promised that its orbital status and other information relating to Tiangong-1 will be publicized both in Chinese and English regularly.

According to the latest statistics released by CMSEO on its official website, the Tiangong-1 had run at a height of 286.5 km high from December 17 to 24, 2017, without any noticeable issues.

As China's first space lab, Tiangong-1 was launched in September 2011 and ended its data service in March 2016. It was in service for 4.5 years, 2.5 years longer than its designed life, and had docked with Shenzhou-8, Shenzhou-9, and Shenzhou-10 spacecraft and undertaken a series of tasks, making important contributions to China's manned space cause, Xinhua reported.

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