Aerospace & Defense

China's failing space station is most likely to crash in one of these countries

Key Points
  • Countries with a greater chance of being struck by Chinese space station have been identified.
  • Launched in 2011, the 8.5-ton Tiangong-1 space laboratory had originally been a symbol of Beijing's ambitious scientific bid to become a space superpower.
  • However, in 2016 Chinese officials confirmed the country's first orbiting space station had to be scrapped after its functions failed.
Chinese space station set to crash-land on Earth's surface within months

Experts have identified the areas where an out-of-control Chinese space station could crash down in the coming weeks.

Launched in 2011, the 8.5-ton Tiangong-1 space laboratory, also known as "Heavenly Palace" has been gradually decaying and, in 2016, authorities admitted its functions were failing.

In the latest assessment, the U.S.-funded Aerospace Corporation said while it is impossible to plot exactly where the module will touch down, certain regions stand a higher chance.

Aerospace identified northern China, the Middle East, central Italy, northern Spain and the northern states of the US, New Zealand, Tasmania, parts of South America and southern Africa.

Jonathan McDowell, astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center, noted in a tweet that predicting the reentry of the space station is a tricky proposal with a very large amount of uncertainty.

@planet4589: As Tiangong descends, confusion remains widespread about what we can predict about its reentry. Remember that a 1 hour error in our guessed reentry time corresponds to an 27000 km (17000 mile) error in the reentry position. And currently our estimate has a 2 week uncertainty

McDowell explains that an error of 1 hour in predicting the time of the station's reentry results in a 17,000 mile difference in where the station falls above the Earth. Current estimates have a two week uncertainty in the reentry timing — a range of 336 hours.

Tiangong-1 does not fly north of 42.7° N latitude or south of 42.7° S latitude on its current trajectory. For New Zealand, McDowell estimates that the chance the station does not come down over the island chain is 99.9 percent, based off of the amount of time Tiangong-1 spends over various parts of the Earth.

The Aerospace scientists believe China's first space station will re-enter the atmosphere either in the last week of March or the first week of April. The European Space Agency has a wider window and says the module will come down between March 24 and April 19.

The report added that the chance of being struck by Tiangong-1 debris is about 1 million times smaller than the odds of winning the U.S. Powerball jackpot.

It added that only one person has ever been recorded as being hit by a piece of space debris and she was not injured.

– CNBC's Michael Sheetz contributed to this report.