Tiangong 1


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Tiangong-1, the unmanned space module

Tiangong 1 (Chinese: 天宫一号) is an unmanned space module complex launched on September 29, 2011 by China as it builds the country's first space station.

The name "Tiangong", literarily translated as Heavenly Palace, symbolizes Chinese people' centuries-long dream of exploring outer space. The name references Wu Cheng'en's "Journey to the West," one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature.

Functioning as a target spacecraft, Tiangong 1 is expected to become China's first space laboratory when it connects to the above mentioned spaceships.

The target spacecraft is composed of two parts. One module is intended for space experiments while the other serves as a "resources module", providing fuel for the regular orbits.

The Tiangong 1 was scheduled to lift off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Inner Mongolia in early September 2011. However, its launch was delayed due to the country's previous failure to send the SJ-11-04 satellite into space. The satellite's carrier rocket CZ-2C is from the same family as the CZ-2F rocket which propels Tiangong-1 into orbit.

Despite the delays, a spokesman from the China Manned Space Engineering Project said the tests of Tiangong 1 and its CZ-2F carrier rocket continue to go smoothly.

During its two-year service, the 8.5-ton Tiangong 1 received several astronauts who would man the Shenzhou 9 and Shenzhou 10 crafts. According to space technologist Qi Faren, the docking technology is pivotal to the Tiangong Program/Project 921-2.

The Shenzhou 9 manned spacecraft was launched at 6:37 p.m. on June 16, 2012 Beijing Time (GMT+0800), sending three astronauts into space to dock with Tiangong 1. Its crew members are Jing Haipeng, Liu Wang and Liu Yang.

On June 18, 2012 China's manned Shenzhou 9 spacecraft completed its automated docking with Tiangong 1 space station.

Launched in June 2013, Shenzhou-10 docked with Tiangong-1 twice, once through automatic operation and the other manually, aiming to further test technologies designed for docking and supporting astronauts' stay in space.

Three astronauts, including Nie Haisheng, Zhang Xiaoguang and Wang Yaping, spent 12 days in Tiangong-1, where they conducted space medical experiments and technical tests. Female astronaut Wang Yaping delivered a lecture to students on Earth about basic physics principles through a live video system, inspiring public enthusiasm for science and space exploration.

The lab had completed its main missions following Shenzhou-10's return to Earth in June 2013. During its extended flight, Tiangong-1 conducted experiments on space technology, space-earth remote sensing and space environment exploration.

It ended its data service on March 16, 2016.

At around 8:15 a.m. on April 2, 2018, Tiangong-1 reentered the Earth's atmosphere. The space lab was mostly burnt up in the atmosphere after it re-entered in the central region of the South Pacific.

Tiangong-1 was in service for four and a half years, two and a half years longer than its designed life, making important contributions to China's manned space cause, paving the way for China to become the third country in the world to operate a permanent space station around 2022.

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