China's Tiangong-1 space lab plummets to Earth, misses Wisconsin

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In the last hours of Tiangong I's flight, Chinese space authorities closely watched its trajectory and released two announcements about its position in orbit on Monday morning before the last one confirming its re-entry.

Those tracking China's free-falling space station as it plunged into Earth's atmosphere and burned up over the South Pacific Ocean are labeling the results as mostly successful.

China's Tiangong-1 space laboratory is now in the history books after it burned up nearly entirely on re-entry above the southern Pacific Ocean.

The Tiangong-1, measuring 10 metres long and weighing around 8.5 tonnes, was launched on September 29, 2011. The Chinese lost control of the spacecraft a couple of years ago and thus could not guide it to the middle of an ocean.

In the end, it didn't much matter that the spacecraft apparently came back down in an uncontrolled manner as it landed not far from where hundreds of others have ended up via controlled re-entries.

The China Manned Space Engineering Office says on its website the most possible re-entry time is 8:49 a.m. Monday. The Tiangong-1 had previously docked with Shenzhou-8, Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 spacecraft.

The literal fall of Tiangong-1 has always been tracked and anticipated, first noticed by an amateur satellite tracker in 2016, months before the Chinese government acknowledged that their space lab would come crashing back down from its uncontrolled orbit.

A second station, Tiangong-2, remains operating in orbit, and over the next few years, China plans to build a larger one.

But China wound up extending Tiangong-1's time in orbit, perhaps as a stop-gap measure in case Tiangong-2 didn't make it up in time.

Ms Huang Weifen, deputy chief designer of the Astronaut Centre of China, said that the module provided "precious experience" for building a space station, Xinhua news agency reported.

The mission meant China had completely grasped space rendezvous and docking technologies, and the country was fully capable of transporting humans and cargo to an orbiter in space, which is essential for building a space station.

Scott Neuman of NPR said, "The 34-foot-long, 18,000 pound Tiangong-1, or "Heavenly Palace-1" was launched in 2011 as China's first attempt at an orbiting space lab". Created to house two astronauts at a time, it successfully docked two manned spacecrafts - the 2012 Shenzhou 9 mission that included China's first female astronaut and the 2013 Shenzhou 10 mission.

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