Today’s Tidbits: October 21, 2017

Today’s Tidbits: October 21, 2017

Here are our tidbits for October 21, 2017: Schriever Wargame 2017 concludes; an update on China’s Tiangong-1 space station’s reentry expected soon; and amazing images from Japan’s Himawari weather satellite of Typhoon Lan.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

2017 Schriever Wargame Conclude

Gen. Bernard Schriever in an undated photo posted on the Air Force Space Command website.

The 11th Schriever Wargame ended yesterday. War games are military exercises that establish an imaginary war fighting scenario and test how the situation might play out for real.  The point is to train your troops and find your own vulnerabilities before an adversary does.  There is nothing new about war games in general, but as space systems became increasingly integral to U.S. warfighting, the Air Force decided to establish war games that incorporated space systems (and more recently cyber) to determine how they could be utilized and their vulnerabilities.

The “space” war games are named in honor of legendary Air Force General Bernard Schriever (1910-2005) who is considered the father of U.S. ballistic missile and military space programs.  The 2017 games involved more than 200 military and civilian experts from the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

China’s Tiangong-1 Space Station Will Reenter Soon — But No One Knows Where

China’s first space station, Tiangong-1, will make an uncontrolled reentry from orbit in the next couple of months.  Uncontrolled reentries are just what they sound like — uncontrolled.  There is no way to know at this point exactly when or where, other than that it will reenter somewhere between 42° North and 42° South latitude, since it is in an orbit inclined 42° to the equator. The Earth is covered 70 percent by oceans, so there is a 70 percent chance that whatever survives the heat of reentry will land in the water.

We will be reporting more on the reentry as it gets closer (January?), but Andrew Jones of has a nice summary of the current situation with quotes from Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) and Philip Clark, both of whom have considerable expertise in tracking such events.

For anyone who’s forgotten (it was 38 years ago, after all), the first U.S. space station, Skylab, made an uncontrolled reentry in 1979.  Skylab was MUCH bigger than Tiangong-1:  77 metric tons (MT) compared to Tiangong-1’s 8.6 MT.  Skylab was in a slightly higher inclination orbit (50°), which took it over a greater number of heavily populated areas, though Tiangong-1 will fly over places like New York City and Washington, DC, not to mention Beijing.  Most of Skylab burned up in the atmosphere (as will Tiangong-1), but some pieces survived to the surface. Most splashed into the Indian Ocean, but others landed on the west coast of Australia.  No one was injured.

Spacecraft, rockets and pieces thereof reenter all the time, mostly burning up in the atmosphere.  For the parts that do survive, most end up in the Pacific, it being such a huge ocean. The Soviet Union/Russia intentionally deorbited its space stations using onboard propulsion to direct them into the Pacific Ocean “graveyard.”

Japanese Weather Satellite Images Typhoon Lan

Marshall Shepherd of the University of Georgia and a past president of the American Meteorological Society tweeted this photo of the eye of “Super Typhoon” Lan taken by Japan’s Himawari weather satellite. Amazing. Terrifying.

Lan is the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane and is expected to reach Japan’s Honshu island tomorrow (Sunday), although it is forecast to weaken before making landfall.  Japan has a major election on Sunday and it could impact voter turnout.

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