China scraps first orbiting space laboratory after its functions fail following two years in space

Next generation of space laboratory due to be launched later this year

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 March, 2016, 12:48pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 March, 2016, 11:58am

China’s first orbiting space laboratory has been scrapped and it will burn up in the coming months as it is gradually allowed to descend into the earth’s atmosphere, the nation’s space authorities said.

The Tiangong-1 laboratory was put into orbit in 2011, but was only designed to operate for two years and had exceeded its lifespan, the China Manned Space Engineering Office said in a statement.

“Its functioning failed recently, its data service has been terminated officially,” the statement added.

It successor will be launched in the third quarter of this year.

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Tiangong-1 has operated for 1,630 days in orbit, according to the statement.

“[It] accumulated important experience for the construction and operation of a space station,” the statement said.

The laboratory was China’s first long-term outpost in space. It was 10.4 metres long and a maximum of 3.5 metres in diameter, allowing three astronauts to work inside.

Soon after its launch it carried out a docking mission with the unmanned Shenzhou VIII spacecraft in November 2011.

It also docked with two manned Shenzhou spacecrafts in 2012 and 2013 and received a total six visitors, including Liu Yang and Wang Yaping, China’s first female space crew.

Astronauts conducted a series of experiments in the laboratory, including on cardiovascular regulation, brain function and investigations into the impact of noise and air quality on health. The findings will allow Chinese astronauts to stay longer in space.

Tiangong-1 was equipped with a camera capable of producing ultra-high definition images.

It allowed China to produce a global map of natural resources, including minerals, forests and the marine environment.

Tiangong-1 could only support astronauts for a stay of up to two weeks, but its successor will extend that to over a month.

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Tiangong-2 will test a wide range of cutting edge technology, such as a space clock using cold atoms to achieve unprecedented accuracy and secure communication systems.

China’s first cargo spacecraft, Tianzhou -1, will be launched next year.

It will dock with Tiangong -2 paving the way for the official start of space station construction in about 2020.