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MIT Technology Review

China’s space station Tiangong-2 is about to crash-land in the Pacific Ocean

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Tiangong 1Tiangong 1

The spacecraft will burn up over the south Pacific Ocean at some point today.

About Tiangong-2: It was launched back in September 2016 to conduct a series of scientific and technological space experiments, including in-orbit propellant refueling technology, according to China’s National Space Administration. Two astronauts (called taikonauts in China) traveled to Tiangong-2 in October 2016. They spent about a month on the spacecraft, performing experiments on human physiology in space plus other tests. Tiangong-2 has far exceeded its expected two-year life span (it’s still fully functional), but it will now be deorbited.

The return: It’s scheduled to happen today, on July 19, Beijing time. Tiangong-2 will fire its thrusters to point its reentry towards the Pacific Ocean, between New Zealand and Chile. China will report once it’s taken place.

No need to worry: The deorbiting process will have been very carefully planned. Most of the craft is likely to burn up in the atmosphere, and any debris that makes it through should land in the ocean.

Although ... Hopefully, Tiangong-2 will fare better than its predecessor Tiangong-1. Operators had lost contact with Tiangong-1 (an artist’s impression of the reentry is shown above) long before it reentered the atmosphere unguided on April 2, 2018, landing in the Pacific Ocean. China is planning to launch Tiangong-3 in 2020.

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