Toxic Chinese space station in death spiral, could hit New Zealand

A Chinese space station potentially carrying highly-toxic substances is trapped in a death spiral above us - and experts warn New Zealand could be in the firing line.

In 2016, China admitted it had lost control of the 8.5-tonne Tiangong-1 module and was helpless to stop it plummeting through the atmosphere.

Space experts are tracking the doomed station as it hurtles towards us, and warn pieces could crash into Earth some time between March 24 and April 19.

Experts are predicting it will hit the Earth somewhere between latitudes of 43° north and 43° south, which includes the North Island and part of the South.

Yellow shows the areas most likely to be hit.
Yellow shows the areas most likely to be hit. Photo credit: Aerospace Corporation

"Every couple of years something like this happens, but Tiangong-1 is big and dense so we need to keep an eye on it," Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist from Harvard University told the Guardian.

Worse, the station is carrying a "highly toxic" corrosive chemical on board, and hundreds of kilometres would be affected by the poisonous rain of debris.

"Potentially, there may be a highly toxic and corrosive substance called hydrazine on board the spacecraft that could survive re-entry," the US Aerospace Corporation warns.

"For your safety, do not touch any debris you may find on the ground nor inhale vapors it may emit."

The US Environmental Protection Agency warns hydrazine is known to cause seizures, coma and death.

"Symptoms of acute (short-term) exposure to high levels of hydrazine may include irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, dizziness, headache, nausea, pulmonary edema, seizures, coma in humans," it says.

"Acute exposure can also damage the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. The liquid is corrosive and may produce dermatitis from skin contact in humans and animals."

Launched in 2011, the Tiangong-1 station was seen as a symbol of Chinese ambitions in space, and its strength as a global superpower.