China tonight successfully launched its second experimental space lab as part of an ambitious programme to build a manned space station by 2022, the time when US-led International Space Station expected to go out of service.
The Tiangong-2 space lab was successfully launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwestern China’s Gobi desert.
It was text book launch. It reached the designated orbit in about 10 minutes and the official in-charge of the mission announced the launch over the state-run TV which telecast live the event.
“The mission is complete success and the space lab reached its designated orbit,” an official said.
China’s ambitious space programme aims for a manned space station by 2022. China’s space station is expected to be sent into orbit just as the US-led International Space Station goes out of service — making China potentially the only country with a permanent space presence.
The 8.6-tonne space lab will manoeuvre itself into an orbit about 380 kms above the Earth for initial on-orbit tests.
It will transfer to a slightly higher orbit at about 393 kilometers above the Earths surface by next month before a manned space ship called Shenzhou-11 would ferry two astronauts into space to dock with the lab.
The two astronauts will work in Tiangong-2 for 30 days including manual and automatic docking before reentering the Earths atmosphere.
China, which conducted its first manned space mission in 2003 also plans to launch its Mars mission in 2020 to catch up with India, the US, Russia and the EU to reach the red planet.
As it launched the second space station, China yesterday announced that its first space lab Tiangong-1 is expected to fall into the Earth’s atmosphere in the latter half of 2017.
Tiangong-1 was launched in September, 2011 and ended its data service in March this year, when it had “comprehensively fulfilled its historical mission,” Wu Ping, deputy director of the manned space engineering office told media yesterday.
The space lab is currently intact and orbiting at an average height of 370 kilometers, she said.
It was in service for four and a half years, two and a half years longer than its designed life, and had docked with Shenzhou-8, Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 spacecraft and undertaken a series of tasks, making important contributions to Chinas manned space cause, Wu said.
“Based on our calculation and analysis, most parts of the space lab will burn up during falling,” she said, adding that it was unlikely to affect aviation activities or cause damage to the ground.
China has always highly valued the management of space debris, conducting research and tests on space debris mitigation and cleaning, Wu said.
Now, China will continue to monitor Tiangong-1 and strengthen early warning for possible collision with objects. If necessary, China will release a forecast of its falling and report it internationally, Wu said.