Tiangong-1 is incoming this weekend

Well, incoming somewhere, anyway.  I can be assured of it not hitting my house, as I’m just a bit too far north, but it’s still impossible to predict where under its orbital path it will actually fall.  With luck, it will fall somewhere where it can be observed but not actually threaten anything or anyone on the ground.  😉  I’m hopeful it will fall within the gaze of the newest GOES spacecraft, which take multi-spectral images of the hemisphere containing North America approximately every fifteen seconds.  It would be a remarkably helpful bit of science.

Where will it come down?  Well, that mostly depends on *when* it will come down.  And that in turn depends on the atmosphere.  The lack of solar activity has kept our atmosphere relatively settled, which has allowed Tiangong-1 to survive in orbit a bit longer than originally predicted.  (For comparison, Skylab crashed considerably earlier than predicted, because solar maximum greatly puffed out the atmosphere, an effect which was not adequately understood at the time.)  Predicting deorbit for something with a very circular orbit is tricky; it could fall almost anywhere under its orbital path, with the extremes of the orbit being slightly more likely simply because it spends more time at those latitudes.  Here are the current predictions from the major authorities on the subject:

SatFlare: 1 Apr 2018, 06:56 (±36 hours)

Aerospace.org: 1 Apr 2018 (±2 days)

Satview.org: 2 Apr 2018, 03:09 (±8 hours)

ESA: the morning of 31 March to the early morning of 2 April (in UTC time)

So these are all circling around Easter, more or less.  What’s your bet?  😉

 

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