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Tiangong II Space Station

On 15 September 2016, Tiangong-2, successfully lifted off aboard a Long March-2F rocket from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi desert. Once in space, the 8.6-tonne Tiangong-2 was expected to maneuver itself into an orbit about 380 kilometers above Earth for initial on-orbit tests. Once tests are completed, the orbit is to be changed to about 393 kilometers above Earth; the same altitude at which the future Chinese space station is to eventually be operating. Unlike the Tiangong-1, China’s Tiangong-2 space lab is designed to have astronauts stay in space for a longer time than its Tianzhou-1 predecessor. The Shenzhou 11 spacecraft, to carry two astronauts, blasted off to dock with the Tiangong-2 17 October 2016. These two astronauts were expected to live in the Tiangong Space Module for 30 days, making it China's longest manned space mission to date.

China's second orbiting space lab Tiangong-2 and its carrier rocket "Long March 2-F" were transferred to a launch pad at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest province of Gansu on 09 September 2016. It was scheduled to be launched in mid-September. China's manned space engineering office says Tiangong-2 will be capable of receiving manned and cargo spaceships. The office also says Tiangong-2 will be a refuelling station as well as a testing place for systems and processes for mid-term space stays. Tiangong-2 was delivered to the center in July 2016. China was developing and testing the Tiangong II space laboratory, Shenzhou XI manned spacecraft and Tianzhou I cargo spacecraft amid a massive space exploration drive, according to the country's major spacecraft maker.

Tiangong-2 will verify key technologies for China’s future space station. We now take a look at some of the main objectives and missions that Tiangong-2 is set to accomplish. Unlike the Tiangong-1, China’s first prototype space lab, the Tiangong-2 is designed to have astronauts stay in space for a longer time. The Shenzhou 11 spacecraft, to carry two astronauts, will blast off later to dock with the Tiangong-2. These two astronauts are expected to live in the space lab for up to 30 days. The second mission of the Tiangong-2 is to dock with a cargo ship next year, resupplying the space lab. The "Tiangong-1" was designed for a two-year service in orbit, while the "Tiangong-2" is expected to operate much longer, when with new propellant and other resources. Last but not least, a record number of 14 experiments will be carried out in the Tiangong-2. These experiments will cover cutting edge technologies like space materials science and space life science. And, two of the experiments will be operated by astronauts aboard the space lab. All in all, the Tiangong-2 is another pioneer of China’s future permanent manned space station, which was scheduled to enter into service in 2022.

The module was set to replace the Tiangong-1 prototype, which has been in orbit since 2011. It would form the basis for following modules. The manned Shenzhou-11 spacecraft, which would go into space in October 2016, was set to dock with the module in orbit. China’s Tiangong space station involved the idea of allowing a manned spacecraft, as well as two research modules, to attach themselves to the main body of the station. Two astronauts would spend one month on the Tiangong-2. Construction of Tiangong should be completed in 2022. It is assumed that the station will operate for ten years, but depending on the technical state, the lifetime can be increased. Thus, China will have at its disposal a space station which would be somewhat similar to the International Space Station (ISS), though much smaller [60 tons total mass versus about 400 tons for the ISS].

"Unlike Tiangong I, the Tiangong II would be a genuine space lab. It is set to perform a lot of space scientific and application experiments and make preparations for our future space station," said Liao Jianlin, deputy chief designer of Tiangong II at the China Academy of Space Technology in Beijing. He made the remark to Chinese reporters in an open house for the media to mark the first China Space Day. The State Council announced in late March 2015 that starting that year, April 24 — the day China launched its first satellite into space in 1970 — would be marked as China Space Day.

Liao said Tiangong II has two cabins with different functions. The "experiment cabin" will be hermetically sealed, with astronauts living in it and conducting their missions, while the "resource cabin" will contain solar panels, storage batteries, propellant and engines.

The lab will be launched in the third quarter. The Shen-zhou XI spacecraft, which will carry two astronauts, will be launched in the fourth quarter and will dock with the space lab. The astronauts will stay in Shenzhou XI and Tiangong II for 30 days.

The agency said the Shen-zhou XI's two astronauts were receiving training. It added that the Tiangong II, Shen-zhou XI, the two Long March 2F rockets that will send them into space, as well as the Long March 7 rocket and Tianzhou I, were all being assembled.

China's multibillion-dollar manned space program, a source of increasing national pride, aimed to put a permanent manned station in space in the near future. The station would consist of a core module attached to two labs, each weighing about 20 metric tons.

Around 2018, China would lift the core module, Tianhe I, into space. The module would have five docking hatches capable of connecting with a cargo spacecraft, two manned spaceships and two experiment cabins. It also would have a hatch for astronauts to exit the space station for activities outside the spacecraft, according to Zhou Jianping, chief designer of the country's manned space program.

By 2022, the Chinese space station would become fully operational, according to the China Manned Space Agency. It noted that China would become the only owner of a space station in 2024, when the International Space Station would retire.

China launched its first space lab, Tiangong I, in September 2011. With a designated life span of two years, it has been in service for four-and-a-half years and is in good condition. The space lab successfully conducted six automatic and astronaut-controlled dockings with the Shenzhou VIII, Shenzhou IX and Shenzhou X spacecraft.

Tian-zhou I cargo spacecraft

In the first half of 2016, a next-generation Long March 7 rocket was slated to transport the Tian-zhou I cargo spacecraft to dock with Tiangong II to resupply fuel and other materials and test in-orbit replenishment technologies, according to the China Manned Space Agency.

China took another step toward its goal of putting a space station into orbit around 2022, by sending its first cargo spacecraft Tianzhou-1 into space on 20 April 2017. Atop a Long March-7 Y2 carrier rocket, Tianzhou-1 rose into the air from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in south China's Hainan Province at 7:41 p.m.

China declared the launch a success after it entered designated orbit minutes later. The cargo ship will dock with the orbiting Tiangong-2 space lab where two Chinese astronauts spent 30 days in the country's longest-ever manned space mission, provide fuel and other supplies to the latter, as well as conduct space experiments before falling back to Earth. If the Tianzhou-1 mission is successful, China would become the third country besides Russia and the United States to master the technique of refueling in space.

Measuring 10.6 meters long and boasting a maximum diameter of 3.35 meters, the Tianzhou-1 cargo ship has a maximum takeoff weight of 13.5 tonnes, and could carry over 6 tonnes of supplies. Tianzhou-1 is larger and heavier than Tiangong-2, which is 10.4 meters in length and has a maximum diameter of 3.35 meters, weighing 8.6 tonnes. Supplies loaded on the cargo spacecraft are nearly as heavy as the ship's own weight, exceeding the loading capacity of Russian cargo ships in active service.

Tianzhou-1 was to dock with Tiangong-2 three times. After the first docking, aerospace engineers will test the controlling ability of the cargo spacecraft over the two spacecraft. The second docking will be conducted from a different direction, which aims to test the ability of the cargo ship to dock with the space station from different directions. In the last docking, Tianzhou-1 will use fast-docking technology. Previously, it took China about two days to dock, while fast docking will take about six hours.

The Tianzhou-1 will stay in space for about six months.

International Cooperaiton

On 16 June 2016 the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) agreed to work together to develop the space capabilities of United Nations Member States via opportunities on-board China's future space station.

Following the signing of a Framework Agreement and a Funding Agreement earlier this year, Wu Ping, Deputy Director General of CMSA, presented the project to the 59th session of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) at the UN in Vienna.

Under the agreements, UNOOSA and CMSA would work together to enable United Nations Member States, particularly developing countries, to conduct space experiments on-board China's space station, as well as to provide flight opportunities for astronauts and payload engineers. Both parties would also promote international cooperation in human space flight and other space activities, increased awareness of the benefits of human space technology and its applications, and capacity-building activities in space technology. CMSA would provide funding support to UNOOSA in this regard.

"This is an exciting opportunity to further build the space capacity of developing countries and increase understanding of the benefits space can bring to humankind, including for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. My Office and I were looking forward to working with CMSA on these initiatives," said UNOOSA Director Simonetta Di Pippo.

China expects that its space station would be operational around 2022. "Space exploration is the common dream and wish of humankind. We believe that the implementation of the agreements would definitely promote international cooperation on space exploration, and create opportunities for United Nations Member States, particularly developing countries, to take part in, and benefit from, the utilization of China's space station," said CMSA Deputy Director General Wu Ping.




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