Tiangong-1: Pioneer of China's space station

China's out-of-control space station carrying toxic chemicals to crash to Earth on Easter

The 8.5-metric-ton space lab, about the size of a school bus, was launched by a Long March 2F carrier rocket at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China in September 2011.

The successful rendezvous and docking between the target orbiter Tiangong-1 and the Shenzhou-8 spacecraft marked a significant breakthrough in China's space technology, making China the third country in the world, after the United States and Russian Federation, to master the technique.

"With our current understanding of the dynamics of the upper atmosphere and Europe's limited sensors, we are not able to make very precise predictions", said Holger Krag, head of ESA's Space Debris Office, in an agency blog about Tiangong-1.

On March 2016, the Chinese National Space Administration announced they had lost all contact with the now defunct station, and, therefore, were unable to alter its orbit or control its reentry.

China had said its re-entry would occur at the end of 2017 but the process was delayed, causing some experts to suggest the space lab was out of control.

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A radar image of Tiangong-1 on February 2.

Launched in 2011, Tiangong 1 was China's first space station, serving as an experimental platform for bigger projects, such as the Tiangong 2 launched in September 2016 and a future permanent Chinese space station. But because it was moving so fast, it was impossible to know where exactly it would come down, and the debris would be scattered over thousands of square miles.

Tiangong 1, whose name translates as "Heavenly Palace", had two modules, one for its solar panels and engines, and one for a pair of astronauts to live in and conduct experiments.

Such a practice, frowned upon in the global space community, has been written off as a major blot on China's space program.

Launched in June 2013, Shenzhou-10 docked with Tiangong-1 twice, once through automatic operation and the other manually, aiming to further test technologies designed for docking and supporting astronauts' stay in space.

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About one month later after the launching of Tiangong-1, China sent Shenzhou-8 unmanned spacecraft into orbit. For 6 years of the mission the unit was visited by two teams of taikonaut from China.

And what goes into lower Earth orbit pretty much always comes down.

What made everyone so anxious about Tiangong-1 was its weight. It's likely that the drag would have quickly ripped off solar panels and antenna.

And finally, a rain of whatever remained sprinkled the South Pacific, northwest of Tahiti and fairly close to Samoa.

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