Five years in the making
After the success of their first foray into space with Tiangong-1 five years ago, China has finally launched Tiangong-2, the country's second space station. Tiangong-2 went up on a Long-March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert this morning (evening, local time).
This long-term station prototype heralds a great step forward in China's efforts in space, and it comes at just the right time, as China lost contact with Tiangong-1 earlier this year after it successfully served its time in space, completing several of China's first short duration, three-person crew visits.
China is determined to perfect its space docking and crew support capabilities with Tiangong-2, and to that end, next month, a two-person crew is scheduled for a 30-day stay in the space station.
"Once in space, Tiangong-2 will maneuver itself into an orbit about 380 kilometers above the Earth for initial tests. It will then transfer to a slightly higher orbit about 393 kilometers above the Earth when Shenzhou-11 will ferry two astronauts to the lab," notes a report from a local news outfit.
Not a glorified cargo box
There are those who criticize China's attempts, including today's, as not being adequate enough for effective operation in space. New Scientist reports, however, that the Tiangong-2 has a number of additions and "will include a new mechanical arm; new equipment to perform medical experiments; and better living quarters with new exercise and recreation facilities."
Its facilities, aside from perfecting China's space docking capabilities, are also equipped to conduct 14 experiments on board, from quantum communications, to cardiovascular health, and botany.
All of these efforts to prepare China to install a much larger, more functional space station by the early 2020s — meant to equal the Western counterpart's, the International Space Station. This will, of course, add a bit of healthy competition to our efforts in space.