China’s 9.4 tonne Tiangong-1 space station has re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere over the South Pacific and mostly burnt up on re-entry, the state news agency Xinhua says.
The agency said the craft entered the atmosphere at 0015 GMT (10.15am AEST) on Monday. Earlier the Chinese space authority said the space station was forecast to re-enter above the Atlantic near the southern coast of Brazil.
The craft was expected to re-enter in an area about 40.4 degrees west, 27.4 degrees south, the authority said on its website, giving it a position off the coast to the south-west of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.
The demise of the station became apparent when radar stations no longer detected it passing overhead. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries; the likelihood of pieces landing on someone was small, but not zero.
The station may have landed north-west of Tahiti, Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, said on Twitter.
That location is north of the “Spacecraft Cemetery”, an isolated region in the Pacific Ocean where space debris has frequently landed.
For the past few weeks the fate of Tiangong-1 has provided some drama. The Chinese lost control of the spacecraft a couple of years ago and could not guide it to the middle of an ocean. Because of the drag of air molecules bouncing off Tiangong-1, the station’s altitude dropped, and the descent accelerated quickly in the past few days.
Multiple agencies issued predictions of the time of Tiangong-1’s end, most concluding that April 1 was the most likely date. But because it was moving so fast, it was impossible to know where exactly it would come down, and the debris would be scattered over thousands of square kilometres.
Australian National University astrophysicist at the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics Brad Tucker said in light of reports of its re-entry point, people would have been able to see the debris of the space station fall between Chile and the west of Brazil.
He expected to see videos emerging within an hour of its re-entry showing what would appear like fireworks and bright streaks across the sky.