Image snagged by the Banxing-2 microsatellite that was deployed from the Tiangong-2 shows Shenzhou-11 (above) and Tiangong-2 docked in orbit on October 23, 2016.
Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences via GBTimes

China’s Tiangong -2 space lab is scheduled on Friday to make a controlled re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

The space lab is 10.4 meters long, with the maximum diameter of 3.35 meters and a takeoff weight of 8.6 tons. With its solar panels unfolded, its wingspan is about 18.4 meters wide.

Taking the plunge

According to the China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO), the space hardware will leave its orbit and re-enter on July 19 (Beijing time). Most of the spacecraft will be destroyed in the heated plunge through the atmosphere, and a small amount of debris is expected to fall in the safe sea area in the South Pacific (160-90 degrees west longitude and 30-45 degrees south latitude), according to the CMSEO.

Tiangong-2 space lab being readied for flight.
Credit: CAST

Key technologies tested

Tiangong-2 was lofted on September 15, 2016, with the space lab operating in orbit over 1,000 days, much longer than its two-year designed life.

Tiangong-2 hosted two Chinese astronauts for 30 days in what was China’s longest human space mission so far. China carried out a series of scientific and technological space experiments, and tested the in-orbit propellant refueling technology on Tiangong-2.

Back in early April 2018, an uncontrolled Tiangong-1 re-entered the atmosphere with the re -entry point located in the central region of the South Pacific Ocean, and most parts of that space lab were destroyed during its re-entry into the atmosphere.

China’s Tianzhou-1 resupply craft completed docking and refueling tasks with uncrewed Tiangong-2 space lab.
Credit: CCTV

Vital elements

These early space labs were vital elements of China’s human spaceflight program, one that is leading to assembling a larger space station in Earth orbit in the 2020’s.

Tiangong-1 reentry. Credit: The Aerospace Corporation/CORDS

China’s space station will be capable of hosting three astronauts for long durations and up to six during a change of astronauts. It is due to have two experiment modules and will be accompanied by a co-orbiting space telescope that can dock for maintenance and repairs.

Credit: CMSA

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