China’s defunct space lab, Tiangong-1, should fall to Earth over the weekend.
At over 10 metre in length and weighing more than 8 tonnes, it is larger than most of the man-made objects that routinely re-enter Earth’s atmosphere.
China has lost all communication with the module and so the descent will be uncontrolled.
However, experts say there is very low risk that any parts of Tiangong that do not burn up will hit a populated area.
Launched in 2011 and visited by six Chinese astronauts, Tiangong was supposed to have been deorbited in a planned manner.
The intention was to use its thrusters to drive the vehicle towards a remote zone over the southern ocean.
But all command links were abruptly lost in 2016, and now nothing can be done to direct the fall.
Thirteen space agencies, under the leadership of the European Space Agency, are now following Tiangong’s path around the globe, modelling its behaviour as it descends deeper into atmosphere.Please subscribe to our newsletter