In this picture  picture released by Fraunhofer Institute FHR, the shape of China
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
Now playing
01:53
Chinese space lab burns up falling back to Earth
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
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
Now playing
01:53
Chinese space lab burns up falling back to Earth
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
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
Shenzhou 11 arriving at Tiangong spaceship docking_00000630.jpg
PHOTO: CCTV
Now playing
01:07
China successfully docks spacecraft
china
china's longest manned space mission launches
PHOTO: CCTV
Now playing
02:23
China launches longest manned space mission
china space city mckenzie pkg_00010716.jpg
china space city mckenzie pkg_00010716.jpg
PHOTO: ACC
Now playing
03:58
An inside look at China's Space City
china tiangong 2 space lab launch vo_00000222.jpg
china tiangong 2 space lab launch vo_00000222.jpg
PHOTO: CCTV
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
The crew of the Shenzhou-10 mission in their training capsule
PHOTO: Courtesy Qin Xian'an
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
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
Now playing
01:59
Can China catch up with India in 'space race'?
(CNN) —  

It was a fiery end to what was once one of China’s highest-profile space projects.

The Tiangong-1 space lab re-entered Earth’s atmosphere Monday morning, landing in the middle of the South Pacific, China Manned Space Agency said.

“Most parts were burned up in the re-entry process,” it added.

The space lab, its name translating to “Heavenly Palace,” was launched in September 2011 as a prototype for China’s ultimate space goal: a permanent space station is expected to launch around 2022.

Its demise, though ultimately uneventful, captured public attention in recent weeks, as scientists around the world tracked its uncontrolled descent.

“It did exactly what it was expected to do; the predictions, at least the past 24 hours’ ones, were spot on; and as expected it fell somewhere empty and did no damage,” said Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

McDowell said there was unlikely to be any amateur images of the vessel’s re-entry, given it was daytime in the Pacific when it crashed to Earth. Scientists had earlier said it might be possible to see the spacecraft burn up in a “series of fireballs streaking across the sky.”

It landed about 8:15 a.m. Beijing time (8:15 p.m. ET Sunday), China’s Manned Space Agency said.

Leroy Chiao, a former US astronaut who flew on four space missions, told CNN he would be “surprised if any major pieces survived the re-entry, as the Tiangong-1 was not that big of a spacecraft as they go, and it did not have a heat shield.”

Anything that did make it through the atmosphere “will be at the bottom of the ocean by now,” he added.

The Tiangong-1 was last used by astronauts in 2013, when a three-strong team spent 12 days on the vessel conducting experiments.

Female astronaut Wang Yaping delivered a lecture from space lab to students back on Earth. During its lifespan, it successfully docked with three spacecraft.

The Chinese government told the United Nations in May 2017 it had “ceased functioning” in March 2016, without saying exactly why.

The uncontrolled re-entry of the space lab has been a blot on China’s space program, as it goes against international best practice.

Chiao said the original plan was to guide the space station down in a controlled manner, “much like the Mir space station was.”

“There’s a specific location in the ocean known as the spacecraft graveyard where nations try and put down into,” he said.

The space lab’s fate hasn’t delayed China’s bold plans. In September 2016, China launched its second space lab, Tiangong-2.

Both vessels are part of the preparation for a permanent Chinese presence in space, which is likely to come into operation just as funding for the International Space Station is expected to end.

China said last week training is underway for astronauts who will use the space station, state news agency Xinhua reported. It said it plans to assemble it in space in 2020 and will become fully operational in 2022.

China also plans to put a man on the moon and send a rover to Mars.

Skylab re-entered the Earth
Skylab re-entered the Earth's atmosphere on July 11, 1979, and parts of it fell in western Australia.
PHOTO: Science & Society Picture Library/SSPL/SSPL via Getty Images

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

The first US space station, the 74-ton Skylab, fell to Earth in an uncontrolled reentry in 1979. Some debris fell in sparsely populated western Australia, causing no problems except for a $400 fine for littering.

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.

CNN’s Sol Han reported from Hong Kong and Serenitie Wang reported from Beijing. Katie Hunt wrote from Hong Kong