Tiangong-1 space station crash window gets narrowed down

China's first space station is about to return to Earth, and satellite watchers have begun to zero in on where and when it will crash and burn.

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
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Eric Mack
2 min read
Watch this: Tiangong-1 space station could crash on April 1 (no joke)

The latest predictions for the demise of China's Tiangong-1 see the space station smashing into Earth's atmosphere anytime between early Saturday morning, Pacific time, and late Sunday night, but the forecast has been trending toward the latter half of that window of time. 

Calmer-than-expected solar activity and space weather caused predictions to shift several hours from what I initially reported here Thursday.

Of course, by now you probably know the re-entry of the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 (Tiangong means "heavenly palace" in English) is no prank, despite all the uncertainty around the time and place of its crash landing. The 9-ton spacecraft is widely believed to be out of control and on a collision course with Earth's atmosphere. 

Over the past few days, the European Space Agency, the California-based Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies (CORDS) and other space junk watchers have begun to predict a more specific time when Tiangong-1 will likely break up into fireballs shooting across the sky, perhaps leaving some smaller bits to impact the surface.

CORDS has zeroed in on early April 1, while the US military's Joint Space Operations Center predicts an earlier re-entry at 5:52 p.m. PT Saturday, March 31, with a margin of error of 14 hours.

ESA took a pass on declaring a specific time, saying instead it expects Tiangong-1 to reenter between the evening PT Saturday and  early Sunday evening.

Meanwhile, satellite watcher Marco Langbroek shared the above map that gives a better idea of where the space station could come down. It's most likely to be along the white lines. It's important to notice that Tiangong-1 is very, very likely to come down in the ocean or somewhere rural, but there are some cities with a population over 1 million in the predicted flight path; those are indicated by red dots. 

 For more on Tiangong-1, check out everything you need to know in my earlier post and keep an eye on the sky this weekend. If you see anything, please share with me on Twitter @EricCMack.

First published March 29, 10:08 a.m. PT.
Update, March 30 at 7:50 a.m. PT: Adds revised re-entry predictions from CORDS and ESA.

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