Today, the second Chinese space lab will come back to Earth in a controlled demolition. The majority of the lab will be incinerated by the Earth’s atmosphere, however, smaller bits of debris are expected to plummet into the South Pacific Ocean, a fair distance from any land according to Chinese state news agency, Xinhua.
The space lab, Tiangong-2, was launched in September of 2016. It has been orbit Earth for more than 1,000 days, breaching its scheduled two year life span.
Nearly three years ago, two astronauts lived inside the lab for a month as part of China’s longest crewed space mission ever, where they ran physics, biology, and medical experiments. The end to Tiangong-2 arrived about a year after the Tiangong-1 fell to Earth in an uncontrolled descent, after enduring nearly three years in orbit. The idea was to return the Taingong-1 to Earth in a controlled fashion, but the lab stopped working, leaving the scientists without any real control.
Moving forward in the space race
The Tiangong project is meant to be the foundational steps to China’s main space objective of establishing a permanent space station by 2022. A space station isn’t the only thing China has been working on; at the beginning of the year, they managed to send a probe and a rover to the dark side of the moon to retrieve samples. This was a first for humankind, and there are still more plans for further missions to the moon. The next scheduled lunar launch is set for 2020. Chang’e 5 will be retrieving more samples, and initial plans are in the works for a manned lunar mission somewhere in the 2030s. There is also talk of unmanned missions to mars at the end of 2020.
“Our overall goal is that, by around 2030, China will be among the major space powers of the world,” said Wu Yanhua, the deputy Chief of the National Space Administration in 2016.