BEIJING – China announced that its first unmanned laboratory, Tiangong-1, will fall back to Earth in a controlled manner in the first half of the year and was not a safety risk, according to media reports on Tuesday.
In an interview to the Science and Technology Daily newspaper reported by China Daily, Zhu Zongpeng, a senior scientist with the China Academy of Space Technology, said the space station is being continuously monitored.
He added that the space lab was not crashing and parts of it will burn up while reentering the atmosphere while the rest of the wreckage will fall in a designated area in the Pacific Ocean.
Zongpeng’s statements came in response to recent reports in the Western media that said the spacecraft was out-of-control and would crash-land on Earth.
In May, Chinese space authorities had told the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space that the Tiangong-1 was being continuously monitored.
“According to the calculations and analysis that have been carried out, most of the structural components of Tiangong-I will be destroyed as they burn up during the course of re-entry,” read the document, adding that “the probability of endangering and causing damage to aviation and ground activities is very low.”
According to latest information published by China’s Manned Space Agency, the space lab orbited at an average height of 286.5 kilometers (178 miles) between Dec. 17-24, which indicates that it is “in stable condition without any abnormalities.”
The 2011 launch of China’s first space laboratory was a milestone in Beijing’s race to set up a permanent space station.
In 2012 and 2013, manned missions, Shenzhou 9 and 10 respectively, docked with the Tiangong-1, which weighs 8.5 tons and is 10.4 meters (34 feet) long and has a diameter of 3.35 meters.
In 2016, China took yet another step with the launch of its second laboratory, the Tiangong-2, which was more advanced than its predecessor.
China, which began its space program in 1992 and became the third country, after the United States and Russia, to send astronauts into space in 2003, plans to put into orbit the first module of the space station in 2019 and expects the station to be operational by 2022.