DARMSTADT, Germany (Reuters) – Skywatchers will need sharp eyes and good luck to catch a glimpse of China's Tiangong-1 space lab when it lands on the weekend, a space explorer said Thursday.
The vehicle is expected to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere on Saturday or Sunday, but no one knows exactly where it will go, said Holger Krag, head of the European Space Agency's Space Debris Office to Reuters TV.
"It's very rare to see such a thing," he said.
"It is the upper atmosphere that will create a resistance that will eventually collapse the station, a resistance that is very, very difficult to understand and predict," he said.
Those lucky enough to see the right part of the sky as Tiangong-1
The vehicle should reach speeds of 27,000 km per hour and partially burn at reentry. The rest will break up into fragments that could cover thousands of square kilometers, although the risk to humans is very low, experts say.
"Throughout space history, there were 13,000 tons of space material, and not a single accident was reported," Krag said.
The 10.4 meter long Tiangong-1, or "Heavenly Palace 1," China's first space laboratory, was launched in 2011 to perform docking and orbit experiments as part of China's ambitious space program, which aims to create a 2023 to bring permanent station into orbit.
Originally scheduled to be decommissioned in 2013, China has repeatedly extended its mission, leading some scientists to believe it's out of control.
It will be somewhere between the 43rd North and South Parallels, roughly between the latitudes of London in the UK and Wellington in New Zealand, but it is impossible to be more specific, said ESA's Krag.
The advancement of China's space program is a priority for President Xi Jinping, who has called on Beijing to become a global space power, with both advanced civilian space capabilities and national security capabilities.
Reporting by Reuters TV; Letter from Maria Sheahan; Arrangement by Andrew Heavens