China’s experimental space lab Tiangong-2 orbiting the Earth with two astronauts on board has successfully launched a micro-satellite, roughly the size of a desktop printer. Weighing 47 kilogrammes, the micro satellite has a series of visible light cameras, including a 25 megapixel camera and wide-angle imagers. Its mission is to take photographs of Tiangong II and the Shenzhou 11 spacecraft, which docked with the lab on Wednesday.
The Tiangong II space laboratory released its companion satellite, Banxing-2, at 7:31 am local time Sunday. The satellite, which the media has nicknamed “Selfie Stick”, also has an infrared camera that is temperature-sensitive, said Chen Hongyu, chief engineer of the satellite programme and a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Micro-satellite Innovation Institute.
“Like a private nurse for Tiangong II and Shenzhou XI, the companion satellite monitors their conditions all the time, which is helpful in detecting failures,” he said. With three solar panels, the satellite can also generate enough power to adjust its orbit to shoot pictures of the lab and spacecraft.
Its predecessor, Banxing-1, accomplished the same mission for Shenzhou VII in 2008. The new model is smaller and has a higher capacity, state-run China Daily reported. Micro-satellites weigh 500 to 100 kilograms and are usually cheaper, faster and more advanced than traditional satellites. The commercial potential has attracted much attention from businesses.
“If a company can combine micro-satellites with internet services, it could produce and launch personalised satellites at a very low price,” said Wang Huiquan, deputy director of Zhejiang University’s Microsatellite Research Center. The Shenzhou-11 spacecraft carried two astronauts into space on October 17. It docked with Tiangong-2 two days later.