The final hours for China’s Tiangong-2 space station are at hand, as the eight-ton piece of hardware will fall to earth, or rather sea, some time in the next 20 hours or so in a controlled deorbit maneuver. But unlike with its predecessor, it isn’t a mystery where this particular piece of space debris is going to fall.
Tiangong-2 is a small space station that was put into orbit in 2016 to test a number of China’s orbital technologies; it was originally planned to stay up there for two years, but as many a well-engineered piece of space kit has done, it greatly exceeded its expected lifespan and has been operational for more than a thousand days now.
Chinese Taikonauts have visited the station to perform experiments, test tools, perform orbital refueling and all that sort of thing. But it’s not nearly as well equipped as the International Space Station, nor as spacious — and that’s saying something — so they only stayed a month, and even that must have been pretty grueling.
The time has come, however, for Tiangong-2 to be deorbited and, naturally, destroyed in the process. The China National Space Administration indicated that the 18-meter-wide station and solar panels will mostly burn up during reentry, but that a small amount of debris may fall “in a safe area in the South Pacific,” specifying a rather large area that does technically include quite a bit of New Zealand (160-190°W long by 30-45°S lat).
They did not specify when exactly it would be coming down, except that it would be during July 19 Beijing time (it’s already morning there at the time of publishing). It should produce a visible streak but not anything you’ll see...