Wednesday, March 30, 2016

China's first space station falls silent

An artist's rendition of Tiangong 1, left, being visited by a Shenzhou. Three of these
spacecraft visited the space station over the course of two years. Image Credit: China
National Space Administration
China has officially shut down the country's first space station, Tiangong 1, according to a story by the Xinhua News Agency.

It was reported last week that the China National Space Administration terminated the Tiangong 1 data service after an extended operating period of two and a half years.

Tiangong 1, which means "heavenly palace 1," was lofted into space by China's Long March 2F/G rocket in September 2011. It was designed as a test article to support the rendezvous and docking of crewed and autonomous spacecraft, as well as house crews for an extended period.

It only had one docking port, so it could not be serviced by cargo ships. The station saw three vehiclesone autonomous and two creweddock with the module over two years. The last crew left in the summer of 2013, and it has remained unoccupied since.

The decommissioned laboratory remains safely in its designated orbit, but it will eventually succumb to the effects of atmospheric drag and burn up once it falls low enough.

The station has helped Chinese scientists understand the construction and management of a space laboratory and paved the way for the next version, Tiangong 2.

Tiangong 2 is scheduled to launch in the third quarter of this year. It will sport two docking ports in order to be serviced in orbit. The first crewed mission to the outpost will be Shenzhou 11, which will carry two taikonauts (Chinese astronauts).

A new cargo ship, dubbed Tianzhou, will launch and automatically dock to the new outpost in early 2017.

Both Tiangong 1 and 2 aim to help China develop the required skills and technology needed to build a 60-ton multi-module space station by the early 2020s.

Video courtesy of Space Animation