Chinese officials have confirmed that they have lost control of their space station and it is set to fall into the Earth's atmosphere sometime in late 2017.
China's Tiangong-1 space station had been in orbit for over five years, according to Popular Mechanics, before it was decommissioned. Usually, a retired station is destroyed by purposefully causing a satellite to burn up during re-entry into the atmosphere. The controlled burns normally take place over an ocean so there is little chance that the falling debris could endanger lives or cities.
This is not the case, however, with the Chinese station. Officials are unsure when exactly the station is set to enter the atmosphere, which implies that it has been damaged and scientists no longer have control, Popular Mechanics reports. As a result, nobody is certain when or where the station is set to fall back to Earth. That means that it's possible it could fall over a populated area.
“Based on our calculation and analysis, most parts of the space lab will burn up during falling,” Chinese officials said during a press conference, according to Space.com
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China has admitted that the station stopped sending data back in March, which means that it would be impossible to complete a guided re-entry, according to Space.com. The station weighs almost 19,000 pounds and could do some serious damage if it falls over a populated area.
Chinese officials are monitoring the situation closely and will release a forecast of the satellite's fall to Earth if necessary, according to Space.com.