China Launches Taikonauts For Month-Long Stay On The Tiangong-2 Space Station

The country's longest manned mission is part of their plan for a permanent orbital outpost
China Space Program Taikonaut Shenzhou 11 Tiangong 2
The Shenzhou 11 mission blasted off on October 17, with two taikonauts, Jing Haipeng (a veteran of Shenzhou 7 and 9) and Chen Dong, for a 30 day stay on the Tiangong 2 space station =GT via China Defense Forum

On October 17, 2016, the Shenzhou 11 mission blasted off from Jinquan, China. Born into space by a Long March 2F rocket, Taikonauts Jing Haipeng (a veteran of Shenzhou 7 and 9) and Chen Dong will rendezvous with the Tiangong 2 space station for a 30 day mission, which will be China’s longest manned space mission to date.

Tiangong 2 Space Station China

Launched in September 2016, the Tiangong 2 station has already set a landmark in space science, hosting the first spaceborne cold atomic clock. Atomic clocks, which keep time by measuring the oscillations of an atom, are used in high precision applications like scientific calibrations and satellite navigations (atomic clocks only lose a second every billion years). A cold atomic clock is even more accurate, since it uses a laser to “slow” down the atoms (likely cesium 133) to reduce the chances of the clock missing an atomic oscillation. China also hopes that operating a cold atomic clock in space will free it from possible gravitational interference found on Earth. A more accurate satellite navigation system will offer new civilian and military capabilities.

Jing Haipeng Chen Dong Shenzhou 11 Taikonauts

Tiangong 2 is also host to the POLAR gamma ray detector, operated in conjunction with the University of Geneva. It will measure gamma ray bursts, in order to track space weather and astronomical data. It will also support Chinese quantum communications research by conducting quantum key distribution through laser communications with the Mozi Quantum science satellite. Other research includes the growth of plants in space, material sciences experiments, and observation of the space environment using spectral imaging.

China Tiangong 2 Microsatellite Banxing 2

While it was originally built as a back up for China’s first space station, Tiangong 1, Tiangong 2 is also serving as a testbed for technologies that will be incorporated on China’s next manned space station, which is set for launch in the early to mid 2020s. Tiangong 2 has a robotic arm, and a 40 kg co-orbiting satellite, Banxing 2, which will monitor Tiangong 2 and nearby space debris. In addition to running experiments on Tiangong 2’s scientific equipment, the month-long Shenzhou 11 mission is intended to test the life support systems of the space station.

Tiangong 2 Tianzhou 1 China Space

Once Taikonauts Jing and Chen decamp from the Tiangong 2 next month, the space station will then receive Tianzhou 1, China’s first robotic space resupply vessel. Tianzhou 1 will refuel Tiangong 2, which will then receive its next taikonaut visitors from the 2017 Shenzhou 12 mission. The pace of missions illustrates the energy and investment that China is putting into its space program.

You may also be interested:

China’s Largest Space Launch Vehicle, the Long March 7 flies, with a Technological Triple Whamm

China’s Space Station Plans in Powerpoint: A Closer Look at Tiangong 3

China Launches Quantum Satellite in Search of Unhackable Communications

China’s Answer to the Hubble Telescope

China Showcases Plans to Become the Leading Space Power

What will the Next Chinese Spaceship Look Like?

China’s Space Station Gets a “Super Eye”

China Aims for Humanity’s Return to the Moon in the 2030s