China launches Tiangong-2 space laboratory

A model of the Tiangong-2 space lab docked with Shenzhou-11. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

China has successfully launched its Tiangong-2 space laboratory this week as part of its accelerating space program.

The Tiangong-2 lab was launched form the Jiuquan Space Center in the Gobi Desert at 22:00 local time on Thursday.

It was carried into space atop a Long March-2F T2 rocket, before being successfully delivered into Low Earth Orbit.

Tiangong-2, meaning ‘Heavenly Palace’ in Chinese, is the second space lab launched by China in its ongoing plan to develop its own space station.

The lab weighs 8.86 tons and measures 10.4m in length and up to 3.35m in diameter.

Next month the lab will be visited by two Chinese astronauts who will travel to space aboard a Shenzhou spacecraft also carried by a Long March rocket.

This mission, called Shenzhou-11, will dock with Tiangong-2 and deliver supplies for the astronauts to stay aboard for 30 days.

While onboard Tiangong-2 the Chinese astronauts will conduct a number of scientific experiments. These will include research into quantum communications, gamma ray bursts and fluid physics, as well as an investigation into how some plants grow in space.

“The number of experiments carried out by Tiangong-2 will be the highest of any manned space mission so far,” said Lyu Congmin of the Chinese Academy of Sciences according to state-run China Daily.

Beyond the scientific experiments, China will use Tiangong-2 to practice in-orbit refueling and equipment repairs, and monitor the astronauts’ health during their longer-term stay in space.

A small satellite called Banxing-2 was also launched alongside Tiangong-2 and will take images of the lab and its docking with Shenzhou-11.

Future space station plans

Tiangong-2 represents the latest stage in China’s plans to develop its own space station.

The lab will prove the viability for certain technologies for long-term duration stays in space, and will be followed up by a larger lab called Tiangong-3 in the coming years.

Tiangong-3 will then form the backbone of a larger Chinese space station which will see completion in the 2020s.