On Thursday, China successfully launched its second space station, Tiangong-2, into orbit, after having announced a five-day launch window earlier this week. The new 15 meter-long, eight-ton space laboratory is expected to completely replace its predecessor, Tiangong-1, which was launched five years ago.
Chinese space officials lost contact with Tiangong-1 earlier this year and have pretty much written it off; it’s eventually going to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere in late 2017. The new station, which will orbit the planet about 250 miles high, is carrying 14 experiments up into orbit that will investigate everything from quantum communication technology to testing out a brand new atomic clock. The station will be capable of housing up three astronauts at a time, for short-term habitation. China is moving quickly to use the new station to test out technologies and applications related to making long-term duration in space feasible, and will be sending a crew of two up to Tiangong-2 later next month.
The Tiangong program is part of an overall goal by China to launch a bigger, more permanent space station into space by 2022, as a direct rival to the International Space Station and other efforts led by the United States.
Whatever the case, its rocket boosters seem to working pretty well.
China has already managed to put the first quantum satellite in space. The Europeans, meanwhile, are thinking about a relay station in between the Earth and the Moon.