Tiangong-2 (Chinese: 天宫二号; pinyin: Tiāngōng èrhào; literally: "Celestial Palace 2") is a Chinese space laboratory and part of the Project 921-2 space station program. Tiangong-2 was launched on 15 September 2016.
Tiangong-2 is neither designed nor planned to be a permanent orbital station; rather, it is intended as a testbed for key technologies that will be used in the Chinese large modular space station, which is planned for launch between 2019 and 2022.
The China Manned Space Engineering Office published a brief description of Tiangong-2 and its successor Tiangong-3 in 2008, indicating that at least two crewed spaceships would be launched to dock with Tiangong-2.
Tiangong-2 was originally expected to be launched by the China National Space Agency by 2015 to replace the prototype module Tiangong-1, which was launched in September 2011. In March 2011, Chinese officials stated that Tiangong-2 was scheduled to be launched by 2015. An uncrewed cargo spacecraft will dock with the station, allowing for resupply.
In September 2014, its launch was postponed to September 2016. Plans for visits in October 2016 by the crewed mission Shenzhou 11 and the uncrewed resupply craft Tianzhou were made public. The station was successfully launched from Jiuquan aboard a Long March 2F rocket on 15 September 2016. Shenzhou 11 successfully docked with Tiangong-2 on 19 October 2016.
Aboard the Shenzhou 11, launched from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi desert, were Commander Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong who formed the inaugural crew for the space laboratory. It was China's first manned mission for more than three years.
During the 30 days the two astronauts were aboard Tiangong-2, they conducted a number of scientific and technical experiments on the physiological effects of weightlessness, tests on human-machine collaboration on in-orbit maintenance technology and released an accompanying satellite successfully. Accompanying photography and near-distance fly-by observation were also carried out. They collected abundant data and made some achievements in programs of gamma-ray burst polarimeter, space cold atomic clock and preparation of new materials.
Shenzhou 11 separated from the orbiting Tiangong-2 space lab on November 17, reentry module landed successfully at the expected site in central Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region at about 13:59 Beijing Time.
On April 22, 2017, the cargo vessel Tianzhou-1 successfully docked with Tiangong-2 marking the first successful docking and refuelling with the orbiting space laboratory. It subsequently performed a second docking and refueling on June 15, 2017. On September 12, 2017, Tianzhou-1 performed the third and final docking and refuelling with Tiangong 2, with what is termed a fast docking which took 6.5 hours, rather than 2 days, to complete.
The dimensions of Tiangong-2 are:
Tiānhé-1 is the core module of a planned modular space station. The core module and its other parts are to be launched between 2019 and 2022.
China often chooses poetic names for its space projects, such as Chang'e – after the moon goddess – for its lunar probes; its rocket series, however, is named Long March, in tribute to communist history. The space station project is currently referred to as Tiangong, or "heavenly palace".
China is ready to carry out a multiphase construction program that leads to the large space station around 2020. As a prelude to building that facility, China is set to loft the Tiangong-1 module this year as a platform to help master key rendezvous and docking technologies.
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