News.cn via Spaceflight Insider Tiangong-2 on the launchpad
Tiangong-1, which launched in 2011, was the first step in that direction. The unmanned prototype served as a practice for docking spacecraft, and played host to a short manned mission. Now China’s ready for part 2: sending astronauts to live in space for the longer term.
Tiangong-2 will launch from China’s Gobi Desert at 10:04 p.m. local time on Thursday. A Long March 2F rocket will carry it into orbit 244 miles above the Earth. Then, in October, a crew of two astronauts will travel to the 34-foot-longlab and live there for 30 days.
China National Space Administration via Spaceflight Insider Tiangong-2 is China’s next step toward building a permanent research base in Earth orbit.
There, they’ll perform “[e]xperiments related to medicine, physics and biology, such as quantum key transmission, space atomic clocks and solar storm research,” Chinese news agency Xinhua reports.
A third module, Tiangong-3, is expected to launch in the coming years. Its design will inform China’s large modular space station, a more permanent installation expected in the 2020s.
Tiangong 3 This CGI of the Tiangong-3 space station shows three Tiangong space station modules, a Shenzhou manned module underneath, and a Tianzhou automated resupply vehicle all docked together. The “super eye” will allow for faster connections and docking between Chinese spaceships.