China's space station Tiangong-2 is due to fall down to Earth any minute now. Friday 19 July 2019 is the date set for its organized plummet into the Pacific Ocean between New Zealand and Chile.
Tiangong-2, translated into English as 'Celestial Palace 2,' was launched in 2016 as a part-time spacial feature. It was meant to test technologies for China's greater space station operation, due to launch in 2020 and be finalized by 2022. Now that it has fulfilled its mission, it's time to retire.
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Chinese technological space tests
The same year that the space station was launched in 2016, two Chinese astronauts were sent on the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft up to test technologies while on board the Tiangong-2.
They stayed for one month, which was a feat in itself, given the space station is roughly one-fifth of the size of NASA's International Space Station.
#Tiangong2 facts: The space lab has functions of rendezvous and docked with the Shenzhou-11 manned spaceship and China’s first cargo spacecraft Tianzhou. pic.twitter.com/rGRl53JDsx— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) July 19, 2019
The team of two were sent to space to try out experiments in space on human physiology as well as other scientific research.
Following this, in 2017 the docking and refueling capabilities of the Tiangong-2 were tested and measured by having a cargo spacecraft dock on the space station three times.
Returning to Earth in a measured manner
As Tiangong-2's mission was never meant to last forever, and now that it has served its purpose, even though nothing is wrong with the space station, China will bring it back down to Earth.
A tribute video for Tiangong-2, which is in its final orbits & expected to come down in the next few hours, from Chinese social media account Our Space. 再见，天宫二号。 https://t.co/6fBEwUvpznpic.twitter.com/aXnqVcY79y— Andrew Jones (@AJ_FI) July 18, 2019
One of the main reasons for this safe return, even if most of the shell of the station will disintegrate and burn up when it comes back through the atmosphere, is for history not to repeat itself.
Tiangong-2's predecessor, Tiangong-1 which ended up losing power in April 2018 and came back down to Earth unplanned and in an uncontrolled manner. Luckily, its remains landed in the Ocean, but that was sheer luck.
So even though Tiangong-2 is still fully functional, Chinese officials do not want to relive such a moment.
The Tiangong program is the stepping stone towards China's ultimate space project: launching their permanent space station in 2022.