China’s space agency has completed a controlled de-orbit of the Tiangong-2 space lab
China’s Tiangong-2 space lab plummeted back to Earth in a ball of flame today, as part of a planned de-orbit over the Pacific Ocean.
Most of the spacecraft burned up in the atmosphere, with a small amount of debris falling into a designated security area in the South Pacific.
During that time it has accommodated two astronauts for 30 days, and hosted a series of cutting-edge science experiments.
According to Zhu Zongpeng, chief space lab designer at the China Academy of Space Technology, Tiangong-2 was in good condition and could have continued to orbit for several more years.
“Tiangong-2’s voluntary retirement is meant to eliminate all risks,” Zhu said, according to China’s Global Times .
“Otherwise, the in-orbit reliability of the space lab will decline as the extended service stretches further longer than it was originally intended.
“Once some anomalies occur, Tiangong-2 would uncontrollably fall back to the atmosphere, and some parts might not be completely burned, with its debris falling to the ground, posing a threat to people.”
To ensure the descent took place at a designated time and location, and to ensure security on the ground, Tiangong-2 took a two-step strategy for its controlled de-orbit.
First, the space lab was lowered to an elliptical orbit of 200 kilometres. Then it descended it to an elliptical orbit of 70 kilometres before its re-entry to the atmosphere.
The planned de-orbit of Tiangong-2 comes after its predecessor, Tiangong-1, lost power in April 2018 and crashed down in an uncontrolled fashion.
Tiangong-1 was initially supposed to be taken out of service in 2013, but its mission was repeatedly extended until China lost communication with the spacecraft.
China is now preparing to launch its third temporary orbital lab, Tiangong-3, which will used to test key technologies.
Its ultimate aim is to launch a “real” space station in 2020, which will allow China will play a bigger role in satellite space exploration, manned space flight and space control.