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June 25, CMSE China's second space lab dived unexpectedly toward Earth this month, just two months after its predecessor crashed uncontrolled into our planet's atmosphere.
The uncrewed Tiangong-2 vehicle descended about 59 miles 95 kilometers two weeks ago, then popped back up to its previous mile-high km orbit on June 22, according to Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who keeps tabs on many of the more interesting objects circling Earth.
The initial dip prompted some speculation that China was preparing to deorbit Tiangong But the boost back up to miles suggests that something else is going on, McDowell said.
The evidence of these maneuvers comes from tracking data gathered by the U. Many of these subsystems — particularly the space lab's thrusters — will likely be incorporated into the space station the nation aims to have up and running in Earth orbit byhe said.
Chinese officials therefore probably "want more baseline on how the propulsion system works, how reliable it is, how well it works after two years in space," McDowell told Space. As a sort of bonus, McDowell added, the drop-and-rise move also used up some fuel, making Tiangong-2's eventual re-entry less explosive.
It's unclear when that re-entry will occur. But this month's maneuvers show that China still has control over the 9.
It will only take a couple hundred kilograms of fuel to deorbit Tiangong-2 in such a manner, he said. And McDowell estimates that the space lab probably still has about kg 1, lbs. Tiangong-1's demise, on the other hand, was not controlled. China's first space lab launched in September and hosted two visiting astronaut crews, in June and June Data transmission between Tiangong-1 and its handlers ceased in Marchand the huge craft plunged to Earth on April 1 of this yearbreaking apart and burning up over the southern Pacific Ocean.
The re-entry caused no reported injuries or damage to structures. By coincidence, Tiangong-1 came back to Earth near "Point Nemo," the isolated stretch of water where mission planners try to ditch their dying or derelict spacecraft.
The two Tiangong craft, whose Mandarin name translates as "heavenly palace," were both designed to help China master the skills needed to build a full-on space station, such as rendezvous and docking technology. Tiangong-2 hosted one set of astronauts, in October-Novemberand served as the base for multiple robotic refueling demonstrations, the last of which wrapped up in September Tiangong-2 had been in a sort of hibernation since then, performing minor engine firings every few months to maintain its orbit.
Those maneuvers, and this month's descent and rise, show that China still has control over the space lab. But Tiangong-2's handlers shouldn't take this state of affairs for granted, McDowell said.
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