tiangong 1 module

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Tiangong-2 blasts into orbit becoming China’s second space laboratory.

China returned to active human spaceflight operations earlier today when their second space station, Tiangong-2, launched into orbit.

Liftoff occurred at 10:04am EDT, or 11:04pm Beijing Time, September 15. Shortly after the laboratory separated from the Long March rocket’s upper stage, its two solar arrays were deployed. 

The 19,000 pound module launched on a Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Northwest China. Almost identical to the Tiangong-1 module launched in 2011, Tiangong-2 has been slightly modified to accommodate more science experiments. Additionally, a reconfigured living space can extend crew mission by up to a month.

The most prominent change was the addition of a secondary docking port on the space station’s aft end. This will allow a Tianzhou cargo vessel to dock to the laboratory.

Slated for sometime in early 2017, Tianzhou is China’s version of the Progress cargo freighters that resupply the International Space Station. Testing the cargo ship on Tiangong-2 will pave the way for their routine operation on China’s large modular space station, set for launch before the end of the decade.

Four weeks of orbital maneuvers and systems checks will prepare the module for the arrival of the two-person Shenzhou-11 crew, slated for a mid-October launch from Jiuquan. The crew will spend up to 30 days at the laboratory, more than twice as long as previous Shenzhou crews to Tiangong-1.

Check out our Tiangong-2 coverage hereincluding the rocket’s rollout.