china space station set to fall from space orig_00002106.jpg
china space station set to fall from space orig_00002106.jpg
Now playing
01:21
Space station the size of bus to fall from sky
PHOTO: CCTV
Now playing
00:30
China says hypersonic aircraft test a success
In this picture  picture released by Fraunhofer Institute FHR, the shape of China's falling space station Tiangong-1 can be seen in this radar image from the Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques near Bonn, Germany. In the next few days, the  unoccupied Chinese space station, Tiangong-1, is expected to reenter the atmosphere following the end of its operational life. Most of the craft should burn up. . (Fraunhofer Institute FHR via AP)
PHOTO: AP
In this picture picture released by Fraunhofer Institute FHR, the shape of China's falling space station Tiangong-1 can be seen in this radar image from the Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques near Bonn, Germany. In the next few days, the unoccupied Chinese space station, Tiangong-1, is expected to reenter the atmosphere following the end of its operational life. Most of the craft should burn up. . (Fraunhofer Institute FHR via AP)
Now playing
01:53
Chinese space lab burns up falling back to Earth
PHOTO: CCTV
Now playing
01:03
China launches its first X-ray space telescope
Now playing
00:47
China aims be on Mars by the end of 2020
Shenzhou 11 arriving at Tiangong spaceship docking_00000630.jpg
PHOTO: CCTV
Shenzhou 11 arriving at Tiangong spaceship docking_00000630.jpg
Now playing
01:07
China successfully docks spacecraft
china's longest manned space mission launches
PHOTO: CCTV
china's longest manned space mission launches
Now playing
02:23
China launches longest manned space mission
china space city mckenzie pkg_00010716.jpg
PHOTO: ACC
china space city mckenzie pkg_00010716.jpg
Now playing
03:58
An inside look at China's Space City
china tiangong 2 space lab launch vo_00000222.jpg
PHOTO: CCTV
china tiangong 2 space lab launch vo_00000222.jpg
Now playing
00:40
China launches Tiangong-2 space lab
exp GPS Chiao SOT China space_00013918.jpg
exp GPS Chiao SOT China space_00013918.jpg
Now playing
02:40
On GPS: Is China winning the race for space supremacy?
inside China space program mckenzie erin_00004929.jpg
inside China space program mckenzie erin_00004929.jpg
Now playing
02:37
CNN's rare access inside China's space program
china space city mckenzie pkg_00000607.jpg
china space city mckenzie pkg_00000607.jpg
Now playing
03:59
CNN gains exclusive access to China's space city
The crew of the Shenzhou-10 mission in their training capsule
PHOTO: Courtesy Qin Xian'an
The crew of the Shenzhou-10 mission in their training capsule
Now playing
01:23
How China's astronauts prepare for space
china space montage_00000605.jpg
china space montage_00000605.jpg
Now playing
01:57
China's space race
The Chang'e-3 rocket carrying the Jade Rabbit rover blasts off, from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the southwest province of Sichuan, China, on December 2.
PHOTO: STR/AFP/Getty Images
The Chang'e-3 rocket carrying the Jade Rabbit rover blasts off, from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the southwest province of Sichuan, China, on December 2.
Now playing
01:59
Can China catch up with India in 'space race'?
(CNN) —  

A Chinese space lab could plummet back to Earth in the next 24 hours, authorities say, in a fiery end to one of the country’s highest profile space projects.

The 40-foot long Tiangong-1 or “Heavenly Palace,” is expected to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere between Sunday night and Monday morning US eastern time, according to the latest updates from the European Space Agency and the China Manned Space Engineering Office. Earlier estimates put the date as late as April 4.

Scientists have emphasized the danger of being hit by falling debris is tiny, as low as one in 1 trillion, as the structure is likely to burn up in the atmosphere during reentry.

“There is no need for people to worry about its re-entry into the atmosphere,” an article by the China Manned Space Engineering Office published on state media said.

“It won’t crash to the Earth fiercely, as in sci-fi movie scenarios, but will look more like a shower of meteors.”

The Tiangong-1 was launched in September 2011 as a prototype for China’s ultimate space goal: a permanent space station which is expected to launch around 2022.

But the Chinese government told the United Nations in May 2017 their space lab had “ceased functioning” in March 2016, without saying exactly why.

As of Thursday, the space lab is orbiting the Earth at a height of 196.4 kilometers (122 miles).

Although the incident has been embarrassing for the China’s space program, it hasn’t delayed its progress. In September 2016 the Tiangong-2 space lab was successfully launched and put into orbit.

China's Tiangong 2 space lab is launched on a Long March-2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert.
PHOTO: AFP/Getty Images
China's Tiangong 2 space lab is launched on a Long March-2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert.

Witnesses may see ‘series of fireballs’

Markus Dolensky, technical director of the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research in Australia, said witnesses to the Tiangong-1 descent should see “series of fireballs” streaking across the sky – provided there were no clouds.

“It is now nearing its fiery demise as it gradually gets slowed down by the fringes of the Earth’s upper atmosphere,” he said.

While it is not uncommon for debris such as satellites or spent rocket stages to fall to Earth, large vessels capable of supporting human life are rarer.

NASA’s first space station, Skylab, fell to Earth in an out-of-control reentry in 1979, burning up harmlessly in the process.

The last space outpost to drop was Russia’s 135-ton Mir station in 2001, which made a controlled landing with most parts breaking up in the atmosphere.

The re-entry latitude of the Tiangong-1 is expected to be within 43 degrees north and 43 degrees south of the equator, a huge swath of the earth which stretches from New York to Cape Town. Scientists say it’s not possible to be more specific about exactly where it will come down.

“Some parts of the upper atmosphere are thicker than others meaning the craft slows unpredictably and since it travels around the Earth in just 90 minutes even an uncertainty of a two minutes means the craft could fall anywhere along a 1,000 kilometer track,” Alan Duffy, a research fellow in the Center for Astrophysics and Supercomputing at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia, said.

CNN’s Katie Hunt contributed to this report