China de-orbited its Tiangong-2 space station on Friday, ending a precursor mission to the establishment of a large, multi-module station beginning in 2020.
Launched on Sept. 15, 2016, Tiangong-2 hosted a 30-day visit by astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong beginning the following month. The Shenzhou 11 crew tested out the station’s life support and other systems, performed experiments, released a satellite, and grew rice and vegetables before returning to Earth after 33 days in space.
In April 2017, the Tianzhou-1 cargo ship docked with the space station. The automated ship refueled Tiangong-1 and un-docked and re-docked with the station twice in the months that followed. Tianzhou-1 subsequently separated from the station and was de-orbited on Sept. 22, 2017.
Tiangong-2 was 10.4 m (34 ft) long and weighed 8,600 kg (18,960 lb). That is about half the size of the Salyut 1 space station the Soviet Union launched in 1971.
The station’s predecessor, Tiangong-1, hosted six Chinese astronauts during two crew visits in 2012 and 2013.
China plans to launch the Tianhe-1 core module for a permanent space station in 2020. Two laboratory modules would be subsequently attached to the station over the next two to three years. The facility will be roughly the size of the Mir space station built by the Soviet Union beginning in 1986 and about one-fifth the mass of the International Space Station.
China has opened up its human spaceflight program to other nations. European astronauts have been training for flights to the new space station aboard Shenzhou vehicles. And China has offered to fly foreign experiments to the facility.
China will end a three-year hiatus in human spaceflight late this year with the launch of the two-person Shenzhou-11 spacecraft to the new Tiangong-2 space station, Chinese officials say. The crew will carry out a 30-day mission aboard the space station before returning to Earth.
Tiangong-2, which is set for launch sometime during the third quarter, is larger and more capable than the Tiangong-1 space station launched in 2011. The first station was visited by two three-person crews on missions lasting 12 and 15 days. The second crew landed in June 2013.
“We have specifically modified the interior of the new space lab to make it more livable for mid-term stays for our astronauts,” said Wang Zhongyang, a spokesman for the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST).
“Unlike Tiangong-1, Tiangong-2 will be our first genuine space lab,” he added.
Tiangong-2 is similar in design and size to the Soviet Salyut 6 and Salyut 7 space stations flown in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The new Chinese station has docking ports at both ends to allow for resupply missions.
China plans to send up its new Tianzhou-1 supply ship during the first half of 2017 to verify propellant transfer and other key technologies. The cargo vehicle will be launched by the new medium-lift Long March-7 rocket, which is scheduled to make its inaugural flight later this year.
Chinese officials are not discussing follow-on missions to Tiangong-2. However, some reports say that a second human mission and an additional cargo ship would be launched to the space station in 2018.
Officials also announced plans to launch the core of the permanent Tianhe-1 space station around 2018. The permanent facility will have multiple docking ports to allow for the docking of additional modules. Assembly of the space station is expected to be completed around 2022.
China’s ambitious space plans for 2016 include a crewed flight to a new space station and the maiden flights of the Long March 5 and Long March 7 boosters. The nation plans to set a new record for launches in a year with more than 20 flights.
Three Chinese taikonauts returned safely to Earth today after completing what officials described as a completely successful 15-day mission to the Tiangong-1 space station.
The reentry capsule of Shenzhou-10 landed safely in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region at 8:07 a.m.. All three astronauts were in good physical condition.
Nie Haisheng, commander of the Shenzhou-10 crew and a second-time space traveler, was the first to emerge out of the module, followed by Wang Yaping, the only female astronaut of the mission, and Zhang Xiaoguang.
A long CCTV report on China’s space program, including interviews with the Shenzhou 10 crew, an overview of the nation’s space station plans, a report on life at the nation’s main spaceport, and a Q&A with American lunar expert John Lewis.
China launched three taikonauts into orbit this morning aboard the Shenzhou 10 spacecraft for the second and final human visit to the Tiangong 1 space station. The crew is set for a 15-day space mission.
Commander Nie Haisheng and crew mates Zhang Xiaoguan and Wang Yaping rocketed into orbit aboard a Long March 2F/G from Pad 921 at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center’s LC43 Launch Complex. The launch went off on schedule at 09:38 UTC.
This is China’s fifth human mission and the first since the crew of Shenzhou 9 visited the space station last June. Wang became the second Chinese woman to fly into space.
China is preparing for its first human spaceflight since last June:
China will launch its next manned rocket in the middle of this month, carrying three astronauts to an experimental space module, state media said on Monday, the latest stage of an ambitious plan to build a space station.
The Shenzhou 10 space ship and its rocket had already been moved to the launch area at a remote site in the Gobi desert, the official Xinhua news agency reported….
China is still far from catching up with the established space superpowers, the United States and Russia. The Tiangong 1 is a trial module, not the building block of a space station.
But this summer’s mission will be the latest show of China’s growing prowess in space and comes while budget restraints and shifting priorities have held back U.S. manned space launches.
It will be China’s fifth manned space mission since 2003 when astronaut Yang Liwei became the country’s first person in orbit.
China was in second place in 2012 in terms of both launches (19) and payloads orbited (30). That record put it just behind Russia and ahead of the United States. One of those launches involved a three-person crew sent to the Tiangong-1 space station.
The following look at Chinese launch activities is excerpted from the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation’s new report, “The Annual Compendium of Commercial Space Transportation: 2012.” The excerpt includes a summary of 2012 launch activities, closer looks at the Long March 2 and 3 rockets, and a summary of the Long March 5, 6 and 7 launch vehicles now under development.
China’s surging space program moved into second place in 2012 in terms of both orbital launches and payloads, passing the United States and inching closer to Russia.
China successfully launched 19 rockets last year, placing a total of 30 payloads into orbit, according to an annual report released by the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST). Russia led all nations with 34 payloads on 24 launches, while the United States came in third with 28 payloads on 13 launches. (more…)
A look ahead to the coming year in space finds the introduction of new launch vehicles in the United States and Russia and a third attempt to launch a Russian-Korean rocket from South Korea. Meanwhile, China will send another crew to its orbiting space station and a rover to the moon.
While the Chinese celebrate the launch of a three-member crew to the Tiangong-1 space station, two former chairman of India’s space agency ISRO are looking on with both admiration and regret. As China’s program has moved slowly but steadily forward, India’s plans for human space missions have slipped from around 2016 into the early to mid-2020s.
India’s top space scientists praised China’s maiden mission of manned docking of its space lab even as New Delhi’s own human space flight programme seems to have lost momentum.
“It’s a wonderful thing that has happened,” ex-Chairman of Indian Space Research Organisation, U R Rao told PTI here. “Essentially, they are making sure that they are going ahead systematically with manned mission programme”. …
He said India has not started any manned mission programme at all. “We have to have much larger and much more powerful launch vehicle,” Rao said.
China performed its first human docking on Monday:
China’s Shenzhou 9 space capsule — which launched Saturday carrying three astronauts, including the country’s first female spaceflier — linked up automatically with the unmanned Tiangong 1 space lab just after 2 p.m. Monday Beijing time (2 a.m. ET), according to CCTV.
The only other countries to pull off an orbital docking with a manned spacecraft are the United States and then-Soviet Russia, which first did so in 1966 and 1969, respectively.
Shenzhou 9 was to dock with Tiangong 1 twice. The plan called for the first hookup to be conducted in automated mode, following the pattern set last November during an all-robotic docking between Tiangong and an unmanned Shenzhou 8 craft. At some point, the two spacecraft will separate, and the three taikonauts, as China’s astronauts are known, will perform the second docking under manual control.