China announces its second space laboratory, the ‘TIANGONG 2,’ will blast off into orbit later this autumn, but that’s not it! Shortly afterwards, a manned spacecraft will also be sent to dock with the lab with two astronauts set to stay longer in space than any of their predecessors.
China is pressing ahead its ultimate space goal. Tiangong-2, or “Heavenly Palace-2,” will be the country’s second space lab to be deployed above earth.
“Tiangong-2 will launch in the third quarter of this year. It will carry out various space scientific and application experiments,” said Wu Ping, Deputy Director of China Manned Space Program Office.
If the launch is successful, the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft will follow shortly carrying 2 astronauts, who’ll spend 30 days in orbit- a new record for China.
China aims to build own space station by 2020
But that’s only part of the bigger picture. China’s greater goal is to build its very own space station by 20-20 and it looks to be on course, to do just this.
“It takes numerous launches and docks to finish the ultimate goal. We will organize a series of missions from the middle of this year to the first half of next year,” said Wu.
Tiangong-2 is a prototype for a space station. Its predecessor Tiangong-1 has been in orbit for nearly five years. In 2012 and 2013, manned spacecraft successfully docked with the space lab.
“The difference is Tiangong-2 is a space station in a real sense. Technical adjustments have been made based on experience and data from Tiangong One- which will continue scientific missions,” said Wu.
Preparations are also underway for China’s FIRST cargo spaceship, which is set to launch next year and dock with Tiangong 2.
Wu also said:”It will test key technologies in the construction and operation of a space station, such as cargo transportation, and propellant supply in orbit.”
The international space station is scheduled to retire by 2020, when China is on course to become the only country with a permanent presence in space.
World’s most sensitive ‘eye’
– Chinese experts develop best rendezvous and docking CCD Sensor
BEIJING, June 22 2015 (Xinhua) — Chinese space experts have developed the world’s most sensitive “eye” that enables the autonomous rendezvous and docking of two spacecraft — flying eight times faster than bullets — more efficiently and safely.
The “eye” is China’s newly developed third-generation rendezvous and docking CCD optical imaging sensor. It will be used on China’s second orbiting space lab, Tiangong-2, the Chang’e-5 lunar probe and the permanent manned space station, according to China Academy of Space Technology (CAST).
China plans to launch Tiangong-2 in 2016, and send Chang’e-5 to collect samples from the moon and return to earth around 2017. It also aims to put a permanent manned space station into service around 2022.
“Good ‘eyesight’ is crucial for one spacecraft chasing another for hundreds of thousands of kilometers to achieve a perfect rendezvous and docking — it’s like threading the needle,” says Gong Dezhu, a CAST designer who worked on the CCD optical imaging sensor.
“The last 150 meters between the two spacecraft is the most critical moment. A slight deviation during docking might lead to a disaster like the one caused by Mann, the main antagonist in the movie Interstellar,” Gong says.
Compared with the CCD optical imaging sensor used in the docking of Tiangong-1 and the Shenzhou spacecraft, the new “eye” can see clearer under direct sunlight, which will greatly improve safety. The window period of the docking process will be twice the length, Gong says.
“And the reaction time between the ‘eye’ capturing the first sight of its target and recognizing it has been shortened from 10 seconds to less than one second,” Gong says.
The sensor’s weight and power consumption is only half that of comparable products internationally, says Gong.
Such “eyes” can also be used on mechanical arms, and for refueling and repairing of spacecraft, as well as aerial refueling and docking of underwater vehicles, experts say. – Xinhua
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