In another major step towards achieving a permanent presence in the depths of space, China is set to launch the Tiangong-2, its second “Heavenly Palace” lab into orbit. The launch is scheduled for 10:04 AM ET, tomorrow.
According to reports coming in from the state media, the launch will take place from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert. A Long March 2-F rocket will be then tasked with taking the payload and establishing it in the orbit.
This is actually the second time China is sending a lab into space. Previously, Beijing had also launched the Tiangong 1 back in 2011. If all goes well, this launch will be followed by another manned mission in October, where a Shenzhou-11 spacecraft with a two-man crew is expected to dock with the station. The Tiangong-2 will be maneuvered into an orbit around 380 kilometers above the Earth for initial tests.The lab will then be transferred to a higher orbit about 393 kilometers above the Earth in preparation to welcome two astronauts to the lab.
The crew abroad the Shenzhou will form what is China’s first manned mission in recent years. They will be performing a variety of experiments related to subjects such as medicine, physics, biology, quantum key transmission, space atomic clocks, solar storm research and so on. The astronauts will be staying in the “Heavenly Palace” for up to 30 days.
The Tiangong program is actually a prelude to China’s plans for establishing its own permanent presence in space — much like the ISS. The Tiangong 1 was also mainly used to perform docking exercises by an uncrewed Shenzhou-8 mission in 2011 and crewed Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 missions in 2012 and 2013 respectively.
As per the China Manned Space Engineering (CMSE) office, the Tiangong 1 has also provided the country with a lot of data across various topics,
Tiangong-1 has obtained a great deal of application and science data, which is valuable in mineral resources investigation, ocean and forest application, hydrologic and ecological environment monitoring, land use, urban thermal environment monitoring and emergency disaster control. Remarkable application benefits have been achieved.
Meanwhile, if tomorrow’s mission and October’s manned flight is successful, it will firmly establish China as a country to be reckoned with as far as space capabilities are concerned. It will also mean that the China will no longer have to look towards the International Space Station (ISS) which is restricted to it, thanks to the US Congress — which has barred NASA from contact with China’s space program.
More importantly, the ISS is expected to go out of service around the same time when China’s very own space station is completely set up. This could turn things completely around as China may by then, well become the only country with a permanent abode in space.