Tiangong-2 was a manned Chinese space station that was destroyed upon its controlled re-entry into the Earth’satmosphere over the Pacific Ocean on July 19. Tiangong-2 was retired from service after it had completed its experiments in space.
Tiangong-2 was 10.4 metres long and 3.35 metres wide at its widest point, and weighed 8.6 metric tonnes. It was launched on September 15, 2016 and, in late 2016, hosted two Chinese astronauts for 30 days in what was China’s longest manned space mission so far.
The recently decommissioned space lab followed the Tiangong-1, China’s first space station, which crashed into the southern Pacific Ocean on April 1, 2018 after Chinese scientists lost control of the spacecraft in March 2016. China had launched Tiangong-1 in 2011 as proof-of-concept of technologies for future stations. The lab was visited by two teams of Chinese astronauts for 11 days and 13 days respectively.
Unlike Tiangong-1, scientists were always in control of Tiangong-2. The space lab, which China had never intended to be a permanent post in space, was visited by an uncrewed mission in April 2017. The mission refuelled the station, tested out a new spacecraft, and conducted some “robotic demonstrations”. Tiangong means “Heavenly Palace”.
Most of Tiangong-2 burnt up in the atmosphere, and the remaining debris fell near Point Nemo, the most remote location on Earth, which is so far from land that its nearest neighbours are often astronauts in space. China expects to complete its space station, Tianhe, which will be able to host three astronauts for long durations, around 2022.