China's Tiangong-2 Space Lab Falls to Earth Over South Pacific

Space lab has worked in orbit for over 1,000 days much longer than its 2-year designed lifespan. — AFP  File

With deep attachment, Chinese scientists recalled the experience of participating in the design and implementation of the space experiments on Tiangong-2 and also looked forward to more frontier research on China's future space station.

China was the third country, after Russian Federation and the United States, to master refueling in space. With U.S. precision-guided weaponry dependent on global positioning satellites (GPS) for targeting, China demonstrated America's satellite vulnerability in 2007 when it launched a ballistic missile into space that successfully hit and destroyed one of its defunct low-earth-orbit satellites. The two-man crew remained on-board for 26 days and 11 hours, the only time the station was ever occupied. In June 2018, operators on the ground commanded the station to perform orbital manoeuvres that lowered its orbit to 292 × 297 kilometres, a move that at the time was seen as the country preparing for deorbiting.

China carried out the controlled deorbiting of its Tiangong-2 space lab into the South Pacific, the China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO) announced Friday. Chinese officials confirmed a loss of signal at 13:08:44 UTC.

During the re-entry process, most of the spacecraft will burn up, with a small amount of its debris expected to fall in a designated secure area in the South Pacific Ocean, it said.

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The Tiangong program is the stepping stone towards China's ultimate space project: launching their permanent space station in 2022.

"Once a few anomalies occur, Tiangong-2 would uncontrollably fall back to the surroundings, and a few components may not be completely burned, with its particles falling to the floor, posing a threat to human beings".

As Tiangong-2's mission was never meant to last forever, and now that it has served its objective, even though nothing is wrong with the space station, China will bring it back down to Earth. On October 19, 2016, Tiangong-2 and Shenzhou-11 completed an automated docking in orbit. China had lost all control of the spacecraft and could only vaguely estimate when and where it would come crashing back to Earth.

Weighing 66 tonnes, the Tiangong space station will be a T shape with the Tianhe core module at the center and the Wentian and Mengtian lab capsules on each side.

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