Chinese space station breaks up upon re-entry to Earth's atmosphere

China’s Tiangong-1 space station re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere and burned up over the middle of the South Pacific on Monday, the Chinese space authority said.

The craft re-entered the atmosphere around 8:15 a.m. Beijing time and the “vast majority” of it had burned up upon re-entry, the authority said in a brief statement on its website.

It had said shortly before that it was expected to re-enter off the Brazilian coast in the South Atlantic near the cities of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

Beijing said on Friday it was unlikely any large pieces would reach the ground.

Concerns dismissed as ‘envy’

The 10.4-metre-long Tiangong-1, or “Heavenly Palace 1”, was launched in 2011 to carry out docking and orbit experiments as part of China’s ambitious space program, which aims to place a permanent station in orbit by 2023.

It was originally planned to be decommissioned in 2013 but its mission was repeatedly extended.

An undated handout photo made available by the Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques on March 21 shows a radar image of Tiangong-1 about 270 kilometres above the Earth’s surface.(Fraunhofer FHR via EPA-EFE)

China had said its re-entry would occur in late 2017 but that process was delayed, leading some experts to suggest the space laboratory was out of control.

The Chinese tabloid Global Times said on Monday worldwide media hype about the re-entry reflected overseas “envy” of China’s space industry.

“It’s normal for spacecraft to re-enter the atmosphere, yet Tiangong-1 received so much attention partly because some Western countries are trying to hype and sling mud at China’s fast-growing aerospace industry,” it said.

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