China’s Tiangong-2 space lab will fall to Earth in 2019

Hong Kong moves to criminalize ‘insulting’ China’s national anthem

China’s second space lab will return to Earth in July 2019 in a controlled destruction, the country’s space agency said Wednesday.

The announcement comes just six months after the country’s first space lab, named Tiangong-1, made international news when it infamously plummeted out of orbit in an uncontrolled descent.

It fell into the South Pacific Ocean in April, mostly burning up in the atmosphere before it reached the ocean.

The second space lab, Tiangong-2, which has been in orbit for two years, was launched in 2016. According to state media, it performed 14 projects and carried a 600 kg load.

“Tiangong-2 has fulfilled its mission during the two-year time, and all the loads are now in good condition,” said Lin Xiqiang, deputy director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office, according to state media.

“It will be in orbit until July 2019, and then will be controlled to deorbit.”

In 2016, two astronauts spent a month inside Tiangong-2 as part of China’s longest-ever crewed space mission. According to state media, they conducted experiments related to medicine, physics and biology.

It will have lasted barely half the time that its predecessor spent in orbit. Tiangong-1 was launched in September 2011 and spent at least five years in operation before it “ceased functioning” in March 2016, according to the Chinese space agency officials. It was not revealed why it had suddenly stopped working.

The Tiangong program (Tiangong means “Heavenly Palace” in English) is intended as the initial steps toward China’s ultimate space goal: launching a permanent space station around 2022.

But a space station is just one part of the Chinese government’s wide-ranging ambitions when it comes to its space program.

In August, Beijing unveiled the rover it was planning to send to explore the “dark side” of the moon later in 2018, while the launch of the country’s first Mars probe is planned for 2020.

“Our overall goal is that, by around 2030, China will be among the major space powers of the world,” Wu Yanhua, deputy chief of China’s national space agency, told reporters in 2016.