International Space Station as it flies in front of the Moon as seen from ESA’s space science center near Madrid, Spain, on January 14.
Credit: ESA

Observers on Earth have imaged both the International Space Station as well as China’s now un-crewed Tiangong-2 space lab.

The ISS outpost is the largest structure in orbit, spanning the size of a football pitch, but at 400 km altitude it still appears tiny through a telescope.

Sequence of images

Michel Breitfellner, Manuel Castillo, Abel de Burgos and Miguel Perez Ayucar work at the European Space Agency’s (ESA) European Space Astronomy Center and are members of its astronomy club.

The sky watchers braved freezing temperatures to set up two telescopes with reflex cameras to record a sequence of images as the ISS crossed the face of the Moon.

As the Station could be seen only when in front of the Moon, the group had to press the shutter and hope for the best. “Their calculations were perfect and the result speaks for itself,” notes an ESA statement on the astrophotography.

China’s Tiangong-2 space lab.
Credit: Mariano Ribas

China’s space lab

Meanwhile, satellite sleuth Mariano Ribas from Buenos Aires, Argentina has also released some new imagery of the ISS, as well as China’s Tinagong-2 space lab.

The Chinese space lab was visited late last year by the two-person Shenzhou-11 crew: Jing Haipeng, crew commander and a third-time space traveler, and Chen Dong, a first-time space traveler.

Credit: Mariano Ribas

The two astronauts lived for 30 days onboard Tiangong-2 before returning to Earth – the longest time Chinese astronauts have spent in space and a prelude to that country’s building of a permanent space station in the 2020s.

Cargo spacecraft

In related news from China, the Xinhua news agency has reported that the country’s first cargo spacecraft – the Tianzhou-1 — is set leave its factory site. The Tianzhou-1 cargo spacecraft has met all the requirements to leave the factory, Xinhua has noted.

The take-off weight of Tianzhou-1 is 13 tons and can contain up to 6 tons of material for docking with the Tiangong-2.

Chinese supply ship — Tianzhou-1 — undergoing pre-flight checks.
Credit: CMSA

That automated spacecraft is to be launched in April from the southern province of Hainan, then dock with the Tiangong-2 space lab and refuel the facility.

Doing so will signal an important step for China in building a space station in the 2020s. These cargo ships are required to transfer necessities from Earth for astronauts aboard the space station.

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