China's 60-ton medium-size space station is depicted in this artwork. Credit: CNSA

China’s 60-ton medium-size space station is depicted in this artwork.
Credit: CNSA

 

State-run news agencies in China report that the country’s first space lab — Tiangong-1—has ended data service. That function was terminated by China’s space engineering office.

The spacecraft has been in an “operational orbit” of 1,630 days.

Tiangong-1 was launched in September 2011 with a design life of two years.

The space lab was busy during its extended flight, carrying out space technology experiments and also performing Earth remote sensing activities.

Artist's concept of the Tiangong-1 in Earth orbit. Credit: CMSA

Artist’s concept of the Tiangong-1 in Earth orbit.
Credit: CMSA

Tiangong-1 was used during Shenzhou-8 (unpiloted), Shenzhou-9 (piloted) and Shenzhou-10 (piloted) spacecraft missions. The lab had completed its main missions following the piloted Shenzhou-10’s return to Earth in June 2013.

Next space lab

Earlier this year, Chinese space officials announced that Tiangong-2 is being readied for launch in the third quarter of this year. This space lab is to latch up with the Tianzhou-1- an automated cargo ship — in the first half of 2017.

This maiden voyage of the cargo supply vehicle is to be boosted by the still-to-be-flown Long March-7 rocket. That booster is to fly this year, lifting off from China’s new Wenchang satellite launch center in south China’s Hainan Province.

China also has on schedule the launch of a two-person Shenzhou-11 spacecraft in the fourth quarter of this year to dock with Tiangong-2.

According to the Xinhua news agency, the Shenzhou-11 crew is now in training.

Meanwhile, the Tiangong-2, Shenzhou-11, the two Long March-2F carrier rockets to be used to lift those vehicles into space, as well as the Long March-7 rocket, and the Tianzhou-1 supply ship “are either being assembled or undergoing assembly examination.”

Medium-sized space station

These space missions are designed to verify key technologies and techniques for China to fabricate a 60-ton, multi-modular “medium-sized” space station around 2020.

China's new spaceport on Hainan Island. Credit: CMSE

China’s new spaceport on Hainan Island.
Credit: CMSE

The core module of China’s space station is to be lofted in 2018 to test related technologies and to research engineering issues. The station is to be fully operational in about 2022, say government sources.

China’s Long March 5 booster is tied to the country’s space station program, now on tap for its premier blastoff from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center later this year.

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