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A non-operational Chinese space lab disintegrated under intense heat as it re-entered Earth's atmosphere and plunged to a watery grave in the South Pacific, Chinese officials said.

"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.

The agency also mentioned that "most parts were burned up in the re-entry process".

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 government, however, did not specify the reason. Along with its predecessor, Tiangong-2 (launched in September 2016), it tested technologies crucial for the planned modular orbital outpost.

In a Twitter post by the 18th Space Control Squadron (SPCS) at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, SPCS said: "UPDATE: #JFSCC confirmed #Tiangong1 reentered the atmosphere over the southern Pacific Ocean at ~5:16 p.m. (PST) April 1".


In the months leading up to its reentry, experts stressed that the chances of being hit and injured by the space station's falling debris were extremely slim.

However, the ESA had predicted that Tiangong-1 would probably break up over water.

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. After all, oceans cover 71% of Earth's surface, so, statistically, that'd be the safest place for something to end up. While they expected most of the derelict station to burn up as it entered the atmosphere, there was concern that small pieces that survived reentry could cause damage if they fell in a populated area. The first was a three-person crew in June 2012 that included the first Chinese woman in space; the second was another three-person crew in June 2013.

A radar image of Tiangong-1 on February 2.

When Tiangong-1 hit the atmosphere, it was most likely traveling at about 17,000 miles per hour.

The station was a stepping stone for the Chinese space program, used to practice docking maneuvers in space - something essential for further space exploration, including the use of larger space stations in the future. It's likely that the drag would have quickly ripped off solar panels and antenna.


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