China’s spacecraft Shenzhou-11, carrying two taikonauts separated from orbiting experimental space lab Tiangong-2 Thursday as they prepared for their journey to return to earth after a month’s stay in space, the longest by Chinese astronauts. The separation marks the beginning of the journey home for the two men, Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong, having lived and worked in Tiangong-2 for 30 days, the longest stay in space by Chinese astronauts.
Before the separation, the astronauts thanked their ground team and to everyone who had supported China’s space programme, state-run Xinhua news agency reported. After the separation, Shenzhou-11 will remain at a point near the space lab before they are given signal by the ground team to embark on their return journey. Around one day later, the re-entry module will descend from an orbit about 393 kilometers above Earth, a true test to its re-entry system as it has to withstand heavy friction on its outer surface.
However Tiangong-2, which is the second experimental space lab will remain in its orbit and remote experiments will continue until it docks with Tianzhou-1, China’s first cargo spacecraft, which is set to be launched in April 2017. The Chinese astronauts entered the space lab on October 19 after their spacecraft which was launched a day before successfully docked with the orbiting experimental space station.
The rendezvous between the spacecraft and lab took place over 393 kilometres above Earth. The space lab was launched as part of efforts to set up its own manned space station by 2022, which will make it the only the country to have such a facility in service as the current in-service International Space Station (ISS) retires by 2024.
During their stay they carried out medical experiments, space science experiments and in-orbit maintenance with human participation. They were also tasked to undertake ultrasound tests during space travel for the first time, cultivate plants in space, and test the three winners of an experiment design competition run in Hong Kong for secondary school students.