Beijing sees its multi-billion-dollar space programme as a symbol of the country’s rise. It plans to send a manned mission to the moon in the future.
China sent another lab into orbit, the Tiangong-2, in September 2016 and hopes to turn it into a crewed space station by 2022.
Experts have downplayed any concerns about the Tiangong-1 causing any damage when it hurtles back to Earth, with the ESA noting that nearly 6,000 uncontrolled re-entries of large objects have occurred over the past 60 years without harming anyone.
The CMSEO said the probability of someone being hit by a meteorite of more than 200 grammes is one in 700 million.
During the uncontrolled re-entry, atmospheric drag will rip away solar arrays, antennas and other external components at an altitude of around 100 kilometres, according to the Chinese space office.
The intensifying heat and friction will cause the main structure to burn or blow up, and it should disintegrate at an altitude of around 80 kilometres, it said.
Most fragments will dissipate in the air and a small amount of debris will fall relatively slowly before landing, most likely in the ocean, which covers more than 70 per cent of the Earth’s surface.
Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, estimates that the Tiangong-1 is the 50th most massive uncontrolled re-entry of an object since 1957.
“Much bigger things have come down with no casualties,” McDowell said.
“This thing is like a small plane crash,” he said, adding that the trail of debris will scatter pieces several hundred kilometres apart.
At an altitude of 60-70 kilometres, debris will begin to turn into “a series of fireballs”, which is when people on the ground will “see a spectacular show”, he said.
China will step up efforts to coordinate with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs as the re-entry nears, foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters on Friday.
“I want to highlight that we attach importance to this issue and we’ve been dealing with it very responsibly in accordance with relevant laws and regulations,” Lu said.
“What I’ve heard is the possibility of large amounts of debris falling to the ground is very slim.” — AFP