Three months after a dilapidated Chinese space station plummeted back to earth, another could be on the way.
Tiangong-2, which was launched in September 2016, isn’t falling out of control, like its sister station Tiangong-1 (which crashed into the Pacific ocean on April 1), but China has lowered the orbit of the lab, which could signal its upcoming demise.
Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said on Twitter the orbital lowering is a sign the space station is “probably about to be deorbited.”
The difference this time, though, is it appears the changes are being done deliberately, meaning there won’t be the Chicken Little guessing game of whether the spacecraft will land in a populated area. And with a device weighing, by McDowell’s estimates, 17,549 lbs, that’s a good thing.
China’s National Space Agency hasn’t offered any statement regarding Tiangong-2.
Want to keep track of Tiangong-2, just in case? There are a few methods for doing so.
The best, and most thorough is in livetime, via SatView.org. This site has real-time updates on its location and altitude — and if a deorbiting does begin, it offers an estimate on the time of reentry.
If you want context, though, McDowell’s Twitter Feed is a terrific source of information written for both the layperson and people familiar with celestial debris.
Keep in mind, space junk falls to earth regularly. This month alone, four satellites have reentered the atmosphere. Between 200-400 space objects reenter the atmosphere each year, a number that’s only going to increase as companies send up more satellites.
To date, just one person has been hit with falling debris from any of them — Lottie Williams of Tulsa, Okla., who was hit by a six-inch piece of rocket in 1997. She walked away from the incident with no injuries.