Deployed micro-satellite monitored the combined Tiangong-2/Shenzhou-11 vehicles.
Credit: CCTV

China’s Tiangong-2 space laboratory continues to circle the Earth in uncrewed mode. It was launched back in September 2016.

The China Manned Space Agency recently noted that the spacecraft remains in orbit and is still “unswervingly carrying out its missions.”

Inside Tiangong-2 as crew members carry out experiments. Mission lasted for about a month.
Credit: CCTV

Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong entered the space lab in October 2016 after their Shenzhou-11 spacecraft docked with the Tiangong-2, and stayed inside the craft for 30 days.

Precursor demonstrations

From April to September 2017, Tiangong-2 and the Tianzhou I cargo spacecraft fulfilled several docking and in-orbit refueling operations, precursor demonstrations to sharpen skills for future space station operations.

China’s ECNS [China News Service] quotes Pang Zhihao, a space industry observer in Beijing that “Tiangong-2 is now like a large scientific satellite.” Despite the spacecraft’s 24-month designed life span having been reached, it seems to be in good condition and is still carrying out work.

China’s cargo ship right approaches Tiangong-2 space lab in artist’s view.
Credit: CMSE

“In addition to scientific applications, the spacecraft can also perform orbit transfer experiments,” Pang said. “Such experiments can help to explore methods of avoiding space debris for our future space station, and also can allow Tiangong-2’s cameras to take high-definition pictures of Earth.”

Artist view of China’s space station. Credit: CMSE

Future plans

According to ECNS, Pang added that researchers can use the presently orbiting space lab to repeat some tests and experiments on equipment or technologies that will be used on the country’s future space station, further verifying the reliability of the equipment and relevant technologies.

The 8.6 ton Tiangong-2 has helped to pave the way for China’s plans for a manned space station, the agency said. According to the China Academy of Space Technology, assembly of the larger complex is to start around 2020. The space station is expected to be fully operational around 2022 and is set to operate for about 15 years.

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