The Chinese Space Station, Tiangong 1, has crashed down in the Pacific Ocean. While it did hit the ground at considerable speed, the actual fall has been a continuous process from the time it was launched by the (Chinese National Space Administration) CNSA in 2011. For weeks, there was a (small) fear that the station, since it was falling uncontrolled, would strike a heavily populated area, potentially devastating several acres of land. Michigan, not taking any chances, even set up an Emergency Operations Center to monitor its fall and potentially dispatch resources if the worst happens. Fortunately, however, with the Chinese government’s confirmation, the people of Earth can rest easy.
Tiangong 1 was designed to be a test bed for many of China’s experimental technologies, and as such was not considered a grave loss. However, the station was not supposed to fall as early as it had been, and many experts consider the premature fall of the school bus sized station to be somewhat of a setback to the nation’s early space ambitions, precipitating in the eventual launch of the Tiangong 2.
The launch and eventual fall of the Tiangong 1 is a reminder of the ever- growing crowdedness - and riskiness -of space, as more and more players start entering into a field that was once dominated by the Russian and US space agencies. In 1960, there were only two organizations in space: NASA and ROSCOSMOS. Today, there are dozens of countries, companies and organizations, with more joining an ever more crowded space. China’s space station is just the start of its more ambitious plans.
However, many of the new entrants into the multi-billion dollar space industry different this time. While not even 15 years ago, the only organizations with enough money and resources to launch something to space were wealthy, advanced governmental space agencies. in recent years, however private companies and developing countries have started to become the norm.
China’s Tiangong 2 is currently the only independent space station in operation; the International Space Station is currently run by multiple space agencies. Just under five years ago, India launched its probe Mangalyaan, to mars for the first time, costing less to produce than the movie the Martian. In addition, SpaceX, a private American company, is launching satellites to space and landing the rockets in a way seemed like something out of science fiction just a few years ago.
The space industry is changing faster than ever, and with more and energy being put into space travel by previously non-existent organizations, stories such as a Tiangong will become more commonplace. Eventually, flying to the stars will no longer be something to hear about, rather, an experience to witness.
Jesse Shoghi is a junior studying computer science.