Rocket boosts Tiangong-2 space lab into orbit 380 km above Earth, where initial tests are being planned
China on Thursday successfully launched Tiangong-2 — its space lab, which is part of an ambitious plan, stretched along several phases, to establish a manned space station around 2022.
A Long March-2F T2 rocket lifted the space lab at 10:04 p.m. local time from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China’s Gobi desert. After a flight of 580 seconds, it entered its designated orbit 380 kilometres above Earth. Initial tests would be conducted at this stage.
Subsequently, the space lab would be transferred to a slightly higher orbit, around 393 kilometres above Earth — the height of the future Chinese space station. Once this is achieved, the Shenzhou-11 manned spaceship would ferry two astronauts into space to dock with the lab in mid-to-late October.
The two astronauts will work in Tiangong-2 for 30 days before re-entering Earth’s atmosphere.
On Wednesday, Xinhua news agency quoted Wu Ping, deputy director of the manned space engineering office, as saying that China’s manned space program had now entered a “new phase of application and development”.
China’s first cargo ship, Tainzhou-1, will lift-off in April 2017, to dock with Tianwgong-2, in order to provide it with fuel and other supplies.
The two astronauts will carry out experiments related to aerospace medicine, space physics and biology, quantum key transmission, space atomic clock and solar storms.
China Central Television (CCTV) earlier reported that “scientists will also test a quantum communication system that relays encrypted information between the space lab and stations on the ground — that will be impossible for third parties to hack”. A materials lab on the Tiangong-2, taking advantage of zero-gravity conditions will test 18 new-age composite materials.