BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s Tiangong-1 space station is not out of control and does not pose a safety threat, a top Chinese spaceflight engineer said on Monday, after reports that the station was falling toward earth.
The Tiangong-1, or “Heavenly Palace 1”, China’s first space lab, was launched into orbit in 2011 to carry out docking and orbit experiments as part of China’s ambitious space program, which aims to place a permanent station in orbit by 2023.
Tiangong-1 was originally planned to be decommissioned in 2013 but China has repeatedly extended the length of its mission. The delay of re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere, which China said would happen in late 2017, had led some experts to suggest the space laboratory may be out of control.
Zhu Congpeng, a top engineer at the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, told the state-backed Science and Technology Daily newspaper that the space station was not crashing and did not pose a safety or environmental threat.
“We have been continuously monitoring Tiangong-1 and expect to allow it to fall within the first half of this year,” Zhu told the newspaper.
“It will burn up on entering the atmosphere and the remaining wreckage will fall into a designated area of the sea, without endangering the surface,” he said.
Re-entry was delayed in September 2017 in order to ensure that the wreckage would fall into an area of the South Pacific ocean where debris from Russian and U.S. space stations had previously landed, the paper said.