Tiangong-1

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Tiangong-1
天宫一号目标飞行器
Model of the Chinese Tiangong Shenzhou.jpg
Model of Tiangong space lab with attached Shenzhou crewed spacecraft.
Tiangong 1 drawing (cropped).png
Plan diagram of Tiangong-1 with solar panels extended
Station statistics
COSPAR ID 2011-053A
SATCAT no. 37820
Launch 29 September 2011,
13:16:03.507 UTC [1] [2]
Carrier rocket Long March 2F/G
Launch pad Jiuquan, LA-4/SLS-1
Reentry 2 April 2018, 00:16 UTC [3] [4]
2 April 2018 00:15 UTC (China Manned Space Engineering Office) [5]
Mission statusDeorbited [4]
Mass 8,506 kg (18,753 lb) [6]
Length10.4 m (34 ft)
Diameter3.35 m (11.0 ft)
Pressurised volume 15 m3 (530 cu ft) [7]
Days occupied20 days, 18.5 hours
(Hatch open to hatch closed) [8]
  Tiangong- 1
  Earth

Background

Tiangong-1 was originally intended to be launched in August 2011, and was delivered to the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on 23 July 2011, successfully passing a launch rehearsal test on 17 August 2011. [39] However, following the failed launch of a Long March 2C launch vehicle in August 2011, the launch was postponed. Following an investigation into the August 2011 launch failure, [12] [40] Tiangong-1's launch was rescheduled for late September 2011, [41] partly to coincide with the Chinese National Day on 1 October 2011. [42]

Launch

On 20 September 2011, the spacecraft was again rolled out to Pad 1 of the South Launch Site at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in preparation for the rescheduled launch attempt. [43] The launch occurred at 13:16 UTC on 29 September 2011, successfully placing Tiangong-1 into low Earth orbit. [39] Chinese television broadcast the launch animation accompanied by an instrumental version of the American patriotic song America the Beautiful , a choice of music for which it later offered no explanation. [44]

Orbital transfers and testing

On 30 September 2011, Tiangong-1 completed the second of two orbital transfer maneuvers, reaching an apogee altitude of 355 km (221 mi). [45] This was the precursor to a week-long program of orbital testing, conducted from the Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Center, to prepare the module for future orbital docking operations. [45] On 10 October 2011, Tiangong-1 released its first orbital photo, showing a view of its outer hull and satellite relay antenna. [46]

Autonomous orbital docking

Diagram of Tiangong-1 (left) docked to a Shenzhou spacecraft (right). Tiangong 1 drawing.png
Diagram of Tiangong-1 (left) docked to a Shenzhou spacecraft (right).

The uncrewed Shenzhou 8 mission successfully docked with Tiangong-1 on 2 November 2011 UTC, marking China's first orbital docking. [18] Shenzhou 8 undocked from Tiangong-1 on 14 November 2011, before successfully completing a second rendezvous and docking, thus testing the reusability of the docking system. [19] [47] [48] Shenzhou 8 deorbited on 17 November 2011, and landed intact in Siziwang Banner in Inner Mongolia. [49] After the mission, the CNSA reported that Tiangong-1's systems were in optimal condition. [50]

Crewed missions

Preparations

In December 2011, the Tiangong-1 module began automated internal checks for toxic gas, to ensure that its interior would be safe for astronauts to enter. [51] In January 2012, reports emerged in British publication Spaceflight alleging that the American Boeing X-37B robotic spaceplane was shadowing Tiangong-1 for surveillance purposes. [52] However, former United States Air Force orbital analyst Brian Weeden later refuted this claim, emphasizing that the X-37B occupied a 100 degree right ascension offset orbit from Tiangong-1, and would not be able to closely observe the module as they would only pass each other twice an orbit at a closing speed of 7 km/s. [53]

Shenzhou 9 (Expedition 1)

The three members of Shenzhou 9's crew. Liu Yang, China's first female astronaut, is shown on the right. Shenzhou 9 crew.jpg
The three members of Shenzhou 9's crew. Liu Yang, China's first female astronaut, is shown on the right.

In March 2012, it was reported that China had finished the initial crew selection for the Shenzhou 9 mission. Niu Hongguang, the deputy chief commander of the China Manned Space Engineering Office, stated that Shenzhou 9 would dock with Tiangong-1 before August 2012. [54] The Shenzhou 9 spacecraft was delivered to Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center for launch preparations on 9 April 2012, [55] while its Long March 2F launch vehicle arrived a month later on 9 May 2012. [56]

Shenzhou 9 launched successfully on 16 June 2012, carrying with it China's first female astronaut, Liu Yang. [20] [22] [26] [57] The spacecraft docked with Tiangong-1 on 18 June 2012 at 06:07 UTC (14:07 Beijing time). [21] After about three hours, when the air pressures inside the two vessels were equalized, mission commander Jing Haipeng entered Tiangong-1. [58] The first docking was entirely computer-controlled, without input from the three astronauts; [21] a second, crew-guided docking was successfully conducted on 24 June 2012 at 20:42 UTC (12:42 Beijing time). [59] Shenzhou 9 landed safely in Inner Mongolia on 29 June 2012. [60] In August 2012, Shenzhou 9's crew travelled to Hong Kong to discuss their mission with university students. [61]

Shenzhou 10 (Expedition 2)

Map of Tiangong-1's orbits in June 2013. Tiandong-1 orbits in June 2013.jpg
Map of Tiangong-1's orbits in June 2013.

The crewed Shenzhou 10 spacecraft, the final Shenzhou mission to rendezvous with Tiangong-1 before its deorbit, was launched on 11 June 2013. [23] [24] [62] The launch of Shenzhou 10 was originally planned for earlier in the year, but was delayed to allow the mission to incorporate more complex scientific experiments. [63] The mission's crew included China's second female astronaut, Wang Yaping. [24] Shenzhou 10 docked successfully with Tiangong-1 on 13 June 2013. [25]

On 15 June 2013, the Shenzhou 10 crew completed China's first orbital maintenance operation, replacing Tiangong-1's interior cladding. [64] Additional maintenance work was conducted on the space station's seal rings. [64] On 20 June 2013, Wang Yaping delivered a remote video lecture from orbit to students across China, demonstrating physics in microgravity with her colleagues. [65] On 24 June 2013, CPC general secretary Xi Jinping contacted the astronauts via remote video link to congratulate them. [66] After a series of successful docking tests, Shenzhou 10 undocked and returned safely to Earth on 26 June 2013. [67] With a duration of 15 days, Shenzhou 10 was China's longest crewed space mission, [68] until Shenzhou 11's 30-day mission to Tiangong-2 in 2016. [69]

Post-mission

The Tiangong-1 was launched in September 2011, with an intended service span of two years. After the last crew departed the module in June 2013, it was put into sleep mode. It was intended that it would remain in orbit for some time, allowing China to collect data on the longevity of key components before being commanded to gradually re-enter the atmosphere. The Permanent mission of China to the United Nations (Vienna) informed the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space that communication with Tiangong-1 had ceased functioning on 16 March 2016. [70] One week later on 21 March 2016, the China Manned Space Engineering Office announced that they had officially disabled data service and ended the mission. According to the office, the space laboratory was under continued and close monitoring until it finally burned up in the Earth's atmosphere during an uncontrolled re-entry. [27] [28]

Re-entry

Altitude of Tiangong-1 from March 2017 Altitude of Tiangong-1.svg
Altitude of Tiangong-1 from March 2017
Final orbit above the Pacific Ocean with 1 minute markers Tiangong 1-finalorbit.png
Final orbit above the Pacific Ocean with 1 minute markers
Map showing the probability of re-entry of Tiangong 1 by latitude. Latitudes shaded red were most likely; latitudes shaded green were least likely. Areas outside possible re-entry latitudes are not pictured. Tiangong-1 Reentry Map.png
Map showing the probability of re-entry of Tiangong 1 by latitude. Latitudes shaded red were most likely; latitudes shaded green were least likely. Areas outside possible re-entry latitudes are not pictured.

The orbit of Tiangong-1 decayed gradually, and the space laboratory was predicted to be destroyed upon re-entry into Earth's atmosphere. [73] [74] [75]

At the request of China and the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC), led by the European Space Agency (ESA), conducted an international campaign to monitor the re-entry of Tiangong-1. ESA's Space Debris Office in Darmstadt, Germany hosted and administered the campaign, with participation from other space agencies and organizations including the China National Space Administration (CNSA), the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), and Roscosmos of Russia. [76] The IADC predicted that Tiangong-1 would break up during re-entry, but that parts of the station would survive and fall to the Earth's surface, potentially falling across an area thousands of kilometres long and tens of kilometres wide. However, because most of the re-entry area was ocean or uninhabited land, the IADC stated that the odds of a person being hit by falling debris to be "10 million times smaller than the yearly chance of being hit by lightning". [72] The IADC's final prediction before re-entry was that Tiangong-1 would re-enter at around 01:00 UTC on 2 April 2018, plus or minus 2 hours, falling somewhere on Earth between 42.8° North and 42.8° South latitudes, [77] [78] with the most likely re-entry sites being at the north and south extremes of that range. This is because an inclined orbit has the smallest north-south speed at the extreme latitudes, and the greatest north-south speed near the equator. [72]

Independently, the non-profit Aerospace Corporation's Center for Orbital and Re-entry Debris Studies (CORDS) predicted that Tiangong-1 would most likely re-enter the atmosphere around 00:30 UTC on 2 April 2018, plus or minus 1.7 hours. CORDS scientists also predicted that it would re-enter somewhere between the 42.7° North and 42.7° South latitudes, a range that covered two-thirds of the Earth's surface, with a high likelihood of an ocean landing of whatever did not burn up during re-entry. [79] They predicted that if any parts of the station survived re-entry, the small amount of debris would impact the ground over an area a few hundred square kilometers in size. [80] The final prediction of likely areas for debris impact covered southern South America, Africa, the Middle East, and central Asia. [80] [81] However, even in those high-probability areas, they still estimated the odds of a specific person being hit by debris to be "about one million times smaller than the odds of winning the Powerball jackpot". [82]

Tiangong-1 reentered the Earth's atmosphere at approximately 00:16 UTC on 2 April 2018 over the South Pacific Ocean at 24°30′S151°06′W / 24.5°S 151.1°W / -24.5; -151.1 . [4] [80] According to Chinese state news agency Xinhua, the station mostly burnt up upon re-entry. [83] A fisherman from the nearby island of Maupiti was able to witness the event. [84] It was the largest spacecraft to re-enter the atmosphere since Fobos-Grunt in January 2012. [72] This was about 3,600 km (1,900 nmi) from Point Nemo, a location often used as a spacecraft cemetery to crash defunct satellites. [85] As the spacecraft made an uncontrolled reentry, this was an unintended coincidence.

Tiangong-1
Simplified Chinese 天宫一号
Traditional Chinese 天宮一號
Literal meaningCelestial Palace-1 or Heavenly Palace-1

Program developments

Tiangong-1 was designed as a test bed for key technologies later used on another test station called Tiangong-2, which was launched on 15 September 2016. [108] Both experimental space stations were short-lived and meant to test technologies and systems for the Tiangong space station, which is planned to be assembled from 2021 to 2022. [109]

The design of Tianzhou, an automated cargo spacecraft intended to resupply the Tiangong space station, is based on Tiangong-1. [15] [110]

See also

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Shenzhou 12</span> 2021 Chinese crewed spaceflight to the Tiangong Space Station

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<i>Wentian</i> module Module of the Tiangong space station

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Shenzhou 16</span> 2023 Chinese crewed spaceflight to the Tiangong space station

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