China is set to launch its second experimental space lab as part of its efforts to build a permanent space station as part of its ambitious space programme that aims for a manned space station by around 2022.
China will launch its Tiangong-2 space lab from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwestern China’s Gobi desert on Thursday.
The ambitious space programme aims for a manned space station by around 2022.
Engineers have begun injecting propellant into the the Long March-2F T2 rocket, which will carry Tiangong-2 into space, said Wu Ping, deputy director of the manned space engineering office.
“All systems are ready for lift-off,” she said.
“The launch of Tiangong-2 will lay a solid foundation for the building and operation of a permanent space station in the future,” state-run Xinhua news agency reported today.
Once in space, 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 Earth’s surface before the Shenzhou-11 manned spaceship ferries two astronauts into space to dock with the lab.
The two astronauts will work in Tiangong-2 for 30 days, before reentering the Earth’s atmosphere.
The space lab is part of preparation to build space station by 2022 to rival Russia’s international space station Mir.
Also China’s first space lab Tiangong-1 is expected to fall into the Earth’s atmosphere in the latter half of 2017, Wu said.
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 said.
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 China’s 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.