Spaceflight

In Photos: Tiangong-1, China's Space Station Fell to Earth

SPACE.com Staff |
An artist's Illustration of China's Tiangong-1 space lab, which is expected to fall back to Earth between March 30 and April 2, 2018. Original Image
Credit: CMSA

China's 1st Space Station Module

An artist's Illustration of China's Tiangong-1 space lab, which is expected to fall back to Earth between March 30 and April 2, 2018. Original Image
Credit: CMSA

Tiangong-1, China's first space lab, launched in September 2011 and will fall to Earth in 2018 between March 30 and April 2. See photos and images of Tiangong-1's mission in our full gallery here.

Launched in 2011

China's first space laboratory module, Tiangong 1 (Chinese for "Heavenly Palace") blasts off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Sept. 29, 2011. The module will fly a 2-year mission for docking tests. Original Image
Credit: China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology

China's first space laboratory module, Tiangong 1 (Mandarin for "Heavenly Palace") blasts off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Sept. 29, 2011. The module was built fly a 2-year mission for docking tests, first by the uncrewed Shenzhou 8 spacecraft and later by visiting crewed vehicles during the Shenzhou 9 and Shenzhou 10 missions. The last mission to Tiangong-1 flew in 2013. A successor, Tiangong-2, launched in 2016.

Fiery Fate

China plans to dispose of the Tiangong 1 space laboratory by commanding it to burn up in Earth's atmosphere at the end of a two-year mission. Original Image
Credit: China Manned Space Engineering Office

In 2016, China's Manned Spaceflight Engineering group lost control of Tiangong-1, sealing the spacecraft's fate. Left uncontrolled, the space station module will fall to Earth and burn up in the atmosphere as in this illustration.

How Tiangong-1 Will Die

Any pieces of Tiangong-1 that survive re-entry will likely fall to Earth along a long but narrow track, according to analyses by The Aerospace Corporation. Original Image
Credit: The Aerospace Corporation

Tiangong-1 weighs 8.5 metric tons, so it won't burn up all at once during its fall from orbit. This graphic by the Aerospace Corporation shows how the station module will break apart during re-entry.

Where Will Tiangong-1 Fall?

An image from ESA shows the region when Tiangong-1 is expected to re-enter. Original Image
Credit: ESA

That's a good question. Experts tracking Tiangong-1 know the space lab will fall to Earth between late March and early April 2018, but exactly when and where is impossible to predict. Scientists at the European Space Agency have estimated the latitudes on Earth where debris could fall, leaving a vast potential target area for Tiangong-1.

Dangers Mapped Out

This map shows the risk zone where the China's Tiangong-1 space station will crash into Earth on dark blue background. Original Image
Credit: Shutterstock

This map shows the risk zone where the China's Tiangong-1 space station will crash into Earth on dark blue background.

Blast-off

A Long March 2FT1 rocket carrying Tiangong-1, China's first unmanned space module, blasts off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on September 29, 2011 in Jiuquan, Gansu Province of China. The unmanned Tiangong-1 will stay in orbit for two years and dock with China's Shenzhou-8, -9 and -10 spacecraft with the eventual goal of establishing a manned Chinese space station around 2020. Original Image
Credit: VCG/Getty

A Long March 2FT1 rocket carrying Tiangong-1, China's first unmanned space module, blasts off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on September 29, 2011 in Jiuquan, Gansu Province of China. The unmanned Tiangong-1 will stay in orbit for two years and dock with China's Shenzhou-8, -9 and -10 spacecraft with the eventual goal of establishing a manned Chinese space station around 2020.

Docking in Space

This still from a CNTV broadcast shows China's Shenzhou 9 space capsule just after it was manually docked to the Tiangong 1 space lab by astronaut Liu Wang on June 24, 2012. Original Image
Credit: CNTV/CCTV

Tiangong-1 was the first destination for China's orbital space vehicles. This still from a CNTV broadcast shows China's Shenzhou 9 space capsule just after it was manually docked to the Tiangong 1 space lab by astronaut Liu Wang on June 24, 2012.

Tiangong-1

A photo of the giant screen at the Jiuquan space center shows the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft approaching Tiangong-1 module for the automatic docking on July 18, 2012. Original Image
Credit: STR/AFP/Getty

A photo of the giant screen at the Jiuquan space center shows the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft approaching Tiangong-1 module for the automatic docking on July 18, 2012.

Tiangong 1 Space Lab Orbital Diagram

China's planned orbit for the Tiangong 1 space lab after launch a 350-kilometer path around Earth. Original Image
Credit: China Manned Space Engineering Office

Tiangong-1 was designed to fly in an orbit of 350 kilometers above Earth during its operational mission.

How China's First Space Station Will Work (Infographic)

Take a look at how China's first space station, called Tiangong ("Heavenly Palace") will be assembled in orbit in this SPACE.com infographic. Original Image
Credit: Karl Tate/SPACE.com

Take a look at how China's first space station, called Tiangong ("Heavenly Palace") will be assembled in orbit in this SPACE.com infographic.

Tiangong 1 Space Station Module Undergoing Testing

Photo of the Tiangong 1 module undergoing testing earlier in 2011. Original Image
Credit: China Manned Space Engineering Office

Photo of the Tiangong 1 module undergoing testing earlier in 2011.

Building China's Tiangong 1 Space Lab

This still from a China space agency video shows the country's Tiangong 1 space lab module under construction for its planned 2011 launch. Original Image
Credit: China Manned Space Engineering Office

This still from a China space agency video shows the country's Tiangong 1 space lab module under construction for its planned 2011 launch.

China's Tiangong 1 Docking Concept

A Chinese Shenzhou spacecraft closes in on the country's Tiangong 1 space lab in this still from a mission profile video. Original Image
Credit: China Manned Space Engineering Office

A Chinese Shenzhou spacecraft closes in on the country's Tiangong 1 space lab in this still from a mission profile video.

Display Model of Tiangong I Module

Display model of Tiangong I module at an exhibition hall at the China Academy of Space Technology, complete with access door for public viewing. A Long March 2F carrier rocket for Tiangong I arrived at China's Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on July 23. Personnel and facilities from all subsystems and payloads are gathering at the launch center for the mission of the space laboratory, which are reportedly going well. Original Image
Credit: Gregory Kulacki/People's Daily Online

This display model of Tiangong I module was shown at an exhibition hall at the China Academy of Space Technology, complete with access door for public viewing.

China's Tiangong 1 Space Lab

This artist's illustration from a China space agency video shows the Tiangong 1 space laboratory, a prototype module for the country's planned space station. Original Image
Credit: China Manned Space Engineering Office

This artist's illustration from a China space agency video shows the Tiangong 1 space laboratory, a prototype module for the country's planned space station.

Tiangong 1 Space Lab Design

This artist's illustration from a China space agency video shows the Tiangong 1 space laboratory, a prototype module for the country's planned space station. Original Image
Credit: China Manned Space Engineering Office

This artist's illustration from a China space agency video shows the Tiangong 1 space laboratory, a prototype module for the country's planned space station.

Spacewalking From China's Tiangong 1 Lab

This image depicts a spacewalk from a Shenzhou spacecraft docked to China's Tiangong 1 space laboratory module. Original Image
Credit: China Manned Space Engineering Office

This image depicts a spacewalk from a Shenzhou spacecraft docked to China's Tiangong 1 space laboratory module.

Tiangong 1 Crew Operations

This image depicts a full crew of three astronauts inside China's first space laboratory, the Tiangong 1. Original Image
Credit: China Manned Space Engineering Office

This image depicts a full crew of three astronauts inside China's first space laboratory, the Tiangong 1.

Tiangong 1 Docking Port Closeup

A closeup of the docking port on China's Tiangong 1 space lab is shown in this artist's illustration. Original Image
Credit: China Manned Space Engineering Office

A closeup of the docking port on China's Tiangong 1 space lab is shown in this artist's illustration.

Tiangong 1 Cutaway: Moving Between Spacecraft

This still from a China space agency video shows a cutaway of a Shenzhou spacecraft docked at the country's Tiangong 1 space lab, showing how astronauts will move between the two Chinese spacecraft. Original Image
Credit: China Manned Space Engineering Office

This still from a China space agency video shows a cutaway of a Shenzhou spacecraft docked at the country's Tiangong 1 space lab, showing how astronauts will move between the two Chinese spacecraft.

Sleeping Aboard Tiangong 1

This still from a China space agency video shows how astronauts will sleep aboard Tiangong 1, the country's first space laboratory launching in 2011. Original Image
Credit: China Manned Space Engineering Office/Banner translation - Gregory Kulacki

This still from a China space agency video shows how astronauts will sleep aboard Tiangong 1, the country's first space laboratory launching in 2011.

Tiangong 1 Space Lab Gets Rocket

Chinese engineers assemble the Long March 2F T1 rocket that will launch the Tiangong 1 space laboratory into orbit in 2011. Original Image
Credit: China Manned Space Engineering Office

Chinese engineers assemble the Long March 2F T1 rocket that will launch the Tiangong 1 space laboratory into orbit in 2011.

China's Tiangong 1 Space Lab Module Transferred to Launch Site

China's Tiangong 1 space lab and its Chinese Long March 2F rocket is transferred to the launch site. Original Image
Credit: China Manned Space Engineering

China's Tiangong 1 space lab and its Chinese Long March 2F rocket is transferred to the launch site.

China's Tiangong 1 Spacecraft & Launch Vehicle Rolled to Launch Site

China's integrated Tiangong 1 spacecraft and Long March 2F rocket is slowly rolled out of the vehicle assembly building to its launch site. Original Image
Credit: China Manned Space Engineering

China's integrated Tiangong 1 spacecraft and Long March 2F rocket is slowly rolled out of the vehicle assembly building to its launch site.

China's Tiangong 1 at the Launch Site

China's Tiangong 1 spacecraft and Long March 2F rocket is pictured at the launch site after being transferred from a facility at the Jiuquan Satellite Launching Center. Original Image
Credit: China Manned Space Engineering

China's Tiangong 1 spacecraft and Long March 2F rocket is pictured at the launch site after being transferred from a facility at the Jiuquan Satellite Launching Center.

Tiangong 1 Space Station Module Blasts Off

China's first space laboratory module, Tiangong 1 (Chinese for "Heavenly Palace") blasts off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Sept. 29, 2011. The module will fly a 2-year mission for docking tests. Original Image
Credit: China Manned Space Engineering

Another view of Tiangong-1's launch in 2011.

Tiangong-1 Launch Rocket View

The view from China's Long March 2F rocket as it launches the Tiangong-1 module Sept. 29, 2011. Original Image
Credit: CCTV

The view from China's Long March 2F rocket as it launches the Tiangong-1 module Sept. 29, 2011.

The Scene Outside

The photo, taken by a camera installed on board the Tiangong 1, shows the scene outside the module. October 12, 2011 Original Image
Credit: China Manned Space Engineering

The photo, taken by a camera installed on board the Tiangong 1, shows the scene outside the module. October 12, 2011.

China Unveils Space Station Concept

The space station design was unveiled on a live broadcast to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Original Image
Credit: CCTV

The space station design was unveiled on a live broadcast to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

Shenzhou 8 Spacecraft Docks with Tiangong 1 Already in Orbit

A view from onboard cameras aboard Chinese spacecraft during the docking of Shenzhou 8 and Tiangong 1 to form China's first mini-space station in orbit. Original Image
Credit: China Manned Space Engineering Office

A view from onboard cameras aboard Chinese spacecraft during the docking of Shenzhou 8 and Tiangong 1 to form China's first mini-space station in orbit.

Watching Each Move

Chinese scientists monitor the docking of the Tiangong-1 space lab module and the Shenzhou VIII spacecraft in space at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the northwestern province of Gansu on November 3, 2011. China took a crucial step towards fulfilling its ambition to set up a manned space station by completing its first successful docking high above Earth, state media reported. Original Image
Credit: STR/AFP/Getty

Chinese scientists monitor the docking of the Tiangong-1 space lab module and the Shenzhou VIII spacecraft in space at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the northwestern province of Gansu on November 3, 2011. China took a crucial step towards fulfilling its ambition to set up a manned space station by completing its first successful docking high above Earth, state media reported.

Tiangong-1-Shenzhou-8 Docking

Chinese TV shows the Tiangong 1 module docking with the Shenzhou 8 spacecraft Nov. 2, 2011. Original Image
Credit: CNTV/CCTV

Chinese TV shows the Tiangong 1 module docking with the Shenzhou 8 spacecraft Nov. 2, 2011.

Orbital Transfers and testing

2 October 2011, Tiangong-1 completed the second of two orbital transfer maneuvers, reaching an apogee altitude of 362 kilometres (225 mi).This was the precursor to a week-long program of orbital testing, conducted from the Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Center, to prepare the module for future orbital docking operations. 3D model of the Chinese space station Tiangong orbiting the planet Earth. Original Image
Credit: Shutterstock

Oct. 2, 2011, Tiangong-1 completed the second of two orbital transfer maneuvers, reaching an apogee altitude of 362 kilometres (225 mi).This was the precursor to a week-long program of orbital testing, conducted from the Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Center, to prepare the module for future orbital docking operations. 3D model of the Chinese space station Tiangong orbiting the planet Earth.

Into Space

A 'Long March' 2F rocket carrying a Shenzhou-9 manned spacecraft blasts off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on June 16, 2012 in Jiuquan, China. The Shenzhou-9 manned spacecraft carrying three crew members was launched at 6:37 p.m. (1037 GMT) on June 16 to perform the country's first manned space docking mission with the orbiting Tiangong-1 unmanned space lab, which was launched last September. Original Image
Credit: VCG/Getty

A 'Long March' 2F rocket carrying a Shenzhou-9 manned spacecraft blasts off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on June 16, 2012 in Jiuquan, China. The Shenzhou-9 manned spacecraft carrying three crew members was launched at 6:37 p.m. (1037 GMT) on June 16 to perform the country's first manned space docking mission with the orbiting Tiangong-1 unmanned space lab, which was launched last September.

Shenzhou 9 Commander Boards Tiangong 1

China's Shenzhou 9 mission commander Jing Haipeng waves to a camera after boarding the Tiangong 1 space module following a successful June 18, 2012 docking, China's first manned orbital rendezvous, in this view from state-run TV news. Original Image
Credit: CNTV

China's Shenzhou 9 mission commander Jing Haipeng waves to a camera after boarding the Tiangong 1 space module following a successful June 18, 2012 docking, China's first manned orbital rendezvous, in this view from state-run TV news.

China Shifts Space Station Project Into Overdrive

The first public appearance of China's space station concept. Original Image
Credit: CCTV

The first public appearance of China's space station concept.

Shenzhou 9 Crew Celebrates Manual Docking

The three astronauts aboard China's Shenzhou 9 spacecraft grasp hands to celebrate their successful manned docking with the Tiangong 1 orbiting module on June 24, 2012. At center is astronaut Liu Wang, who piloted the successful docking. Mission commander Jing Haipeng is at left with astronaut Liu Yang, China's first female astronaut, at right. Original Image
Credit: China Manned Space Engineering

The three astronauts aboard China's Shenzhou 9 spacecraft grasp hands to celebrate their successful manned docking with the Tiangong 1 orbiting module on June 24, 2012. At center is astronaut Liu Wang, who piloted the successful docking. Mission commander Jing Haipeng is at left with astronaut Liu Yang, China's first female astronaut, at right.

Approach in Progress

A photo of the giant screen at the Jiuquan space center shows the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft approching Tiangong-1 module for the automatic docking on July 18, 2012. Three Chinese astronauts entered an orbiting module for the first time, a key step towards the nation's first space station, a move broadcast live on China's state television network, as China aims to complete construction of a space station by 2020, a goal that requires it to perfect docking technology Original Image
Credit: STR/AFP/Getty

A photo of the giant screen at the Jiuquan space center shows the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft approching Tiangong-1 module for the automatic docking on July 18, 2012. Three Chinese astronauts entered an orbiting module for the first time, a key step towards the nation's first space station, a move broadcast live on China's state television network, as China aims to complete construction of a space station by 2020, a goal that requires it to perfect docking technology

Tiangong 1 and Shenzhou 9

Skywatcher Stephen Mudge captured this photo of the Chinese Tiangong 1 and Shenzhou 9 spacecraft docked together over Brisbane, Australia June 20, 2012. Original Image
Credit: Stephen Mudge

Skywatcher Stephen Mudge captured this photo of the Chinese Tiangong 1 and Shenzhou 9 spacecraft docked together over Brisbane, Australia June 20, 2012.

Beginning the Process

A photo of the giant screen at the Jiuquan space center shows three Chinese astronauts (from left) Liu Wang, Jing Haipeng and Liu Yang in the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft in the preparation for docking with the Tiangong-1 module on July 18, 2012. Three Chinese astronauts entered an orbiting module for the first time, a key step towards the nation's first space station, a move broadcast live on China's state television network, as China aims to complete construction of a space station by 2020, a goal that requires it to perfect docking technology. Original Image
Credit: STR/AFP/Getty

A photo of the giant screen at the Jiuquan space center shows three Chinese astronauts (from left) Liu Wang, Jing Haipeng and Liu Yang in the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft in the preparation for docking with the Tiangong-1 module on July 18, 2012. Three Chinese astronauts entered an orbiting module for the first time, a key step towards the nation's first space station, a move broadcast live on China's state television network, as China aims to complete construction of a space station by 2020, a goal that requires it to perfect docking technology.

Shenzhou 9 Crew Aboard Tiangong 1

The crew of China's Shenzhou 9 mission waves to a camera aboard the Tiangong 1 space module after successfully docking their capsule at the test module on June 18, 2012, in this still from a state-run TV broadcast on CNTV The crew is (from left) Liu Wang, Liu Yang (China's first female astronaut), and mission commander Jing Haipeng. Original Image
Credit: CNTV

The crew of China's Shenzhou 9 mission waves to a camera aboard the Tiangong 1 space module after successfully docking their capsule at the test module on June 18, 2012, in this still from a state-run TV broadcast on CNTV The crew is (from left) Liu Wang, Liu Yang (China's first female astronaut), and mission commander Jing Haipeng.

On the Launch Pad

The Shenzhou X spacecraft carried by a Long March-2F carrier rocket is installed at the launch pad in Jiuquan, Northwest China's Gansu province in the morning of June 3, 2013. China will launch the Shenzhou X spacecraft in the middle of June, a spokesperson for the manned space program was quoted as saying by China Central Television on June 3. The spacecraft will carry three astronauts to visit the Tiangong-1 space module, state media reported. Original Image
Credit: STR/AFP/Getty

The Shenzhou X spacecraft carried by a Long March-2F carrier rocket is installed at the launch pad in Jiuquan, Northwest China's Gansu province in the morning of June 3, 2013. China will launch the Shenzhou X spacecraft in the middle of June, a spokesperson for the manned space program was quoted as saying by China Central Television on June 3. The spacecraft will carry three astronauts to visit the Tiangong-1 space module, state media reported.

Shenzhou 10 Approaches TIangong-1 Space Station

An exterior camera on China's Tiangong 1 module captures the approach of the Shenzhou 10 spacecraft as it nears the space laboratory during a 15-day spaceflight , China's longest yet, in June 2013. Original Image
Credit: China Manned Space Engineering

An exterior camera on China's Tiangong 1 module captures the approach of the Shenzhou 10 spacecraft as it nears the space laboratory during a 15-day spaceflight , China's longest yet, in June 2013.

On the Chinese Space Mission Shenzhou 10

Launched in June of this year, Shenzhou 10 was China’s fifth piloted space flight mission and the tenth flight of the Shenzhou spacecraft. It was the last of the three Shenzhou flight missions intended for testing rendezvous and docking techniques with the country’s Tiangong 1 space lab. The mission lasted 15 days, the longest space trek so far in the history of China’s human space flight program. Original Image
Credit: CMSE

Launched in June of this year, Shenzhou 10 was China’s fifth piloted space flight mission and the tenth flight of the Shenzhou spacecraft. It was the last of the three Shenzhou flight missions intended for testing rendezvous and docking techniques with the country’s Tiangong 1 space lab. The mission lasted 15 days, the longest space trek so far in the history of China’s human space flight program.

Watching and Waiting

Scientists look at the screen shows the Shenzhou X manned spacecraft conducting docking with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space module at Beijing Aerospace Control Center on June 13, 2013 in Beijing, China. China's Shenzhou X manned spacecraft successfully completed an automated docking with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space module on Thursday. Original Image
Credit: VCG/Getty

Scientists look at the screen shows the Shenzhou X manned spacecraft conducting docking with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space module at Beijing Aerospace Control Center on June 13, 2013 in Beijing, China. China's Shenzhou X manned spacecraft successfully completed an automated docking with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space module on Thursday.

Long Distance Learning

Students gather in a school in Beijing as Chinese female astrounaut Wang Yaping (C on screen) and her two companions give them a live lesson from Tiangong-1 space module on the morning of June 20, 2013. A Chinese astronaut orbiting more than 300 kilometres (186 miles) above the Earth's surface delivered a video class to children across the country on June 20, state television showed in a live broadcast. Original Image
Credit: STR/AFP/Getty

Students gather in a school in Beijing as Chinese female astrounaut Wang Yaping (C on screen) and her two companions give them a live lesson from Tiangong-1 space module on the morning of June 20, 2013. A Chinese astronaut orbiting more than 300 kilometres (186 miles) above the Earth's surface delivered a video class to children across the country on June 20, state television showed in a live broadcast.

Shenzhou 10 Astronauts in Orbit

China's three Shenzhou 10 astronauts wave to the camera after entering the Tiangong 1 module. Image released June 13, 2013. Original Image
Credit: <a href="http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/photo/2013-06/13/c_132453015.htm">Xinhua/Wang Yongzhuo</a>

China's three Shenzhou 10 astronauts wave to the camera after entering the Tiangong 1 module. Image released June 13, 2013.

China Space Station Docking Vision

China is developing its first full-fledged space station, called Tiangong (Heavenly Palace). Early tests of China’s skills at rendezvous and docking, shown in this artist's illustration, are set to begin in 2011. Original Image
Credit: China Manned Space Engineering Office

China is developing its first full-fledged space station, called Tiangong (Heavenly Palace). Early tests of China’s skills at rendezvous and docking, shown in this artist's illustration, began in 2011.

Tiangong-1 in Orbit

Artist's illustration of China's Tiangong-1 space lab in orbit. The spacecraft is expected to fall back to Earth between March 30 and April 3, 2018. Original Image
Credit: The Aerospace Corporation

Artist's illustration of China's Tiangong-1 space lab in orbit. The spacecraft is expected to fall back to Earth between March 30 and April 3, 2018.

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