Credit: The Aerospace Corporation/CORDS


The reentry of China’s Tiangong-1’s is being closely monitored by The Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Orbital and Debris Reentry Studies (CORDS).

Currently, the space station is predicted to reenter Earth’s atmosphere around April 1, 2018, plus or minus 4 days.

Credit: The Aerospace Corporation/CORDS

However, due to the uncertainties involved, it is very difficult to predict the exact timing of any space object reentry.

Sources of uncertainty

According to CORDS, sources of uncertainty include:

  • significant variation in the density of the upper layers of the atmosphere
  • orientation of the spacecraft over time
  • physical properties of the spacecraft, including the exact mass and material composition
  • exact location and speed of the space station

“When aggregated, these factors translate into a reentry timing uncertainty that is roughly 20 percent of the “time to go”—the time remaining between the date of the prediction and the predicted date of reentry,” notes a CORDS update.

Credit: The Aerospace Corporation/CORDS

Surviving debris

Tiangong-1 will reenter somewhere between the latitudes of 43° north and south, and any surviving reentry debris will most likely fall into an ocean.

“The odds of space debris hitting you are less than one in 1 trillion. Surviving debris from Tiangong-1 might be carrying or be comprised of toxic materials. CORDS experts advise that it is best to not touch any space debris or breathe in any vapors it may release,” according to the orbital debris and reentry study group.

Credit: The Aerospace Corporation/CORDS

Visibility conditions

What can a ground observer see?

Incandescent objects during this reentry may be visible and will likely last up to a minute or more, depending on time of day, visibility conditions, and the observer’s location.

Go to this informative video regarding the upcoming reentry, made available by The Aerospace Corporation/CORDS.

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