China says unlikely large pieces of space station will crash to earth

FILE PHOTO: A model of the Tiangong-1 space lab module (L), the Shenzhou-9 manned spacecraft (R) and three Chinese astronauts is displayed during a news conference at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, in Gansu province, China June 15, 2012.  REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

US-CHINA-SPACE:China says unlikely large pieces of space station will crash to earth

BEIJING (Reuters) - It is unlikely that any large parts of China's Tiangong-1 space lab will reach the ground when it falls to Earth, and China has been in close touch with the United Nations about its progress, China's foreign ministry said on Friday.

The craft is expected to re-enter Earth's atmosphere at some time from this week, according to China's manned space program, but no one knows for sure where.

Speaking at a daily news briefing, foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the government had been continually informing the U.N. space agency of the latest information about the Tiangong-1.

China had been responsible and transparent, Lu said.

"If there is a need, we will promptly be in touch with the relevant country," he said.

"As to what I have heard, at present the chances of large fragments falling to the ground are not very great, the probability is extremely small."

The 10.4-metre-long (34.1-foot) Tiangong-1, or "Heavenly Palace 1", China's first space lab, was launched into orbit in 2011 to carry out docking and orbit experiments as part of China's ambitious space program, which aims to place a permanent station in orbit by 2023.

It was originally set to be decommissioned in 2013 but China has repeatedly extended its mission, leading some scientists to believe that it has gone out of control.

Advancing China's space program is a priority for President Xi Jinping, who has called for Beijing to become a global space power with both advanced civilian space flight and capabilities that strengthen national security.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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