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Tiangong-1: China’s space station breaks up over over Pacific Ocean

China’s 8.5 tonne Tiangong-1 space lab burned up in the sky over the South Pacific on Monday, meeting its fiery end after wrong-footing space officials who were tracking its final journey.The bus-sized module crashed to earth at 1.15am, China’s space authority said, with the “vast majority” burning up as it reentered the atmosphere.The disintegration of Tiangong-1, or Heavenly Palace, sparked sadness among enthusiasts who lamented the loss of a craft which “carried millions of Chinese’ space dreams”.The remote location of impact also deprived space-watchers of the illuminated spectacle that many had hoped for as they waited in suspense for one of only a handful of large vessel descents in recent decades.Observers have been captivated by the demise of the 10.4-metre long (34.1-foot) Tiangong-1, with many guessing where precisely the craft might hurtle through the atmosphere at speeds of up to 17,000 mph.The official line from Chinese and United States space agencies was the rather vague location of the “South Pacific”, while astronomers said Tiangong-1’s watery grave was about 100 miles north-west of Tahiti, not far from the international date line.However, China’s space agency appeared to have been confused in the final countdown to descent.

It predicted that impact would take place in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Brazil, before switching moments later to the South Pacific.Jiao Weixin, a professor at the School of Earth and Space Sciences at Peking University, said it would have been impossible to pin-point the exact location that the tumbling spacecraft would fall to earth until the last moments.”Making a number of guesses of different locations and times for descent is very natural,” he told The Telegraph.”The location of reentry for Tiangong-1 was dependent on many factors because it is not being piloted.It would have constantly changed its position as it came down, making it almost impossible to give an accurate position.”Only about 10 percent of the spacecraft was expected to survive re-entry, mainly its heavier components such as its engines.The surviving parts of the spacecraft would have been scattered across thousands of miles of ocean and be almost unrecognisable as space junk.The module was originally intended to be used for two years but served until it stopped functioning in 2016 – just before a controlled descent had been planned.

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