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Plan diagram of Tiangong-1 with its solar panels extended
Station statistics
COSPAR ID 2011-053A
Crew 3
Launch 29 September 2011[1][2] at 21:16:03.507 CST
Launch pad Jiuquan LA-4/SLS-1
Mass 8,506 kg (18,753 lb)[3]
Length 10.4 m (34.1 ft)
Diameter 3.35 m (11.0 ft)
Pressurised volume 15 m3 (530 cu ft)[4]
Perigee 363 kilometres (226 mi)[5]
Apogee 381 kilometres (237 mi)[5]
Orbital inclination 42.77 degrees[5]
Orbital period 91.85 minutes[5]
Orbit epoch 25 January 2015[5]
Days in orbit 1306
(as of 27 April)
Number of orbits 19090[5]
Traditional Chinese 天宮一號
Simplified Chinese 天宫一号
Literal meaning Heavenly Palace-1 or Sky Palace-1

Tiangong-1 (Chinese: 天宫一号; pinyin: Tiāngōng yīhào; literally: "Heavenly Palace 1") is China's first space station,[6] serving as both a manned laboratory and an experimental testbed to demonstrate orbital rendezvous and docking capabilities.[7] Launched unmanned aboard a Long March 2F/G rocket[1] on 29 September 2011,[8] it is the first operational component of the Tiangong program, which aims to place a larger, modular station into orbit by 2023.[7][9] As of September 2011, Tiangong-1 was projected to be deorbited in 2013,[10] and replaced over the following decade by the larger Tiangong-2 and Tiangong-3 modules.[11] However, Tiangong-1 remains in orbit as of 2015.[12]

Tiangong-1 was visited by a series of Shenzhou spacecraft during its two-year operational lifetime. The first of these, the unmanned Shenzhou 8, successfully docked with the module in November 2011,[13][14] while the manned Shenzhou 9 mission docked in June 2012.[15][16][17] A third and final mission to Tiangong-1, the manned Shenzhou 10, docked in June 2013.[18][19][20] The manned missions to Tiangong-1 were notable for including China's first female astronauts, Liu Yang and Wang Yaping.[19][21]

Design and development[edit]

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) designed Tiangong-1 as an 8.5-tonne (19,000 lb) "space-laboratory module", capable of supporting the docking of manned and autonomous spacecraft. In 2008, the China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO) released a brief description of Tiangong-1, along with its larger successor modules, Tiangong-2 and Tiangong-3. A model of the space station was revealed in the Chinese Lunar New Year celebration program on CCTV on 25 January 2009.[22]

On 29 September 2008, Zhang Jianqi (张建启), vice-director of the CMSEO, declared in an interview with China Central Television (CCTV)[23] that Tiangong-1 would be launched in 2010 or 2011. Xinhua later stated that Tiangong-1 would be launched in late 2010, and declared that the renovation of ground equipment was in progress.[24] However, the launch did not ultimately take place until 2011.

By mid-2011, the construction of Tiangong-1 was complete, and its systems and thermal properties were undergoing testing. Testing was also conducted on the Long March 2F carrier rocket on which Tiangong-1 would be launched; technicians undertook particularly extensive safety tests on the rocket in August and September 2011,[8] following the launch failure of a Long March 2C rocket on 18 August.


Tiangong-1 has a pressurised habitable volume of approximately 15 cubic metres (530 cu ft), and uses passive APAS-type docking connectors.[25] Structurally, Tiangong-1 is divided into two primary sections: a resource module, which mounts its solar panels and propulsion systems, and a larger, habitable experimental module.[26]

Onboard facilities[edit]

Tiangong-1's experimental module is equipped with exercise gear and two sleep stations.[4] The interior walls of the spacecraft have a two-color paint scheme – one color representative of the ground, and the other representative of the sky. This is intended to help the astronauts maintain their orientation in zero gravity.[4] High-resolution interior cameras allow manned missions to be closely monitored from the ground, and the two sleep stations have individual lighting controls.[27] Toilet facilities and cooking equipment for the manned missions are provided by the docked Shenzhou spacecraft, rather than being integrated into the Tiangong module itself.[27] Similarly, one member of the module's three-person crew sleeps in the Shenzhou spacecraft, preventing overcrowding.[27]

Mission profile[edit]


Tiangong-1 was originally intended to be launched in August 2011, and was delivered to the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on 23 July, successfully passing a launch rehearsal test on 17 August.[28] However, following the failed launch of a Long March 2C rocket in August 2011, the launch was postponed. Following an investigation into the August launch failure,[8][29] Tiangong-1's launch was rescheduled for late September 2011,[30] partly to coincide with the Chinese National Day on 1 October.[31]


On 20 September 2011, the spacecraft was again rolled out to Pad 1 of the South Launch Site at Jiuquan in preparation for the rescheduled launch attempt.[32] The launch occurred at 13:16 UTC on 29 September, successfully placing Tiangong-1 into low Earth orbit.[28] Chinese television broadcast the launch animation accompanied by an instrumental version of the American patriotic song America the Beautiful, a choice of music for which it later offered no explanation.[33]

Orbital transfers and testing[edit]

On 2 October 2011, Tiangong-1 completed the second of two orbital transfer maneuvers, reaching an apogee altitude of 362 kilometres (225 mi).[34] 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.[34] On 10 October, Tiangong-1 released its first orbital photo, showing a view of its outer hull and satellite relay antenna.[35]

Autonomous orbital docking[edit]

Diagram of Tiangong-1 (left) docked to a Shenzhou spacecraft (right).
Main article: Shenzhou 8

The unmanned Shenzhou 8 mission successfully docked with Tiangong-1 on 2 November 2011 GMT, marking China's first orbital docking.[13] Shenzhou 8 undocked from Tiangong-1 on 14 November, before successfully completing a second rendezvous and docking, thus testing the reusability of the docking system.[14][36][37] Shenzhou 8 deorbited on 17 November 2011, and landed intact in Siziwang Banner in Inner Mongolia.[38] After the mission, the CNSA reported that Tiangong-1's systems were in optimal condition.[39]

Manned missions[edit]


In December 2011, the Tiangong-1 module began automated internal checks for toxic gas, to ensure that its interior would be safe for astronauts to enter.[40] In January 2012, reports emerged alleging that the American X-37B robotic spaceplane was shadowing Tiangong-1 for surveillance purposes.[41] However, former United States Air Force orbital analyst Brian Weeden later refuted this claim, emphasizing that the X-37B occupied a different orbit from Tiangong-1, and would not be able to closely observe the module.[42]

Shenzhou 9[edit]

The three members of Shenzhou 9's crew. Liu Yang, China's first female astronaut, is shown on the right.
Main article: Shenzhou 9

In March 2012, it was reported that China had finished the initial crew selection for the Shenzhou 9 mission. Niu Hongguang, the deputy chief commander of the China Manned Space Engineering Project, stated that Shenzhou 9 would dock with Tiangong-1 before August 2012.[43] The Shenzhou 9 spacecraft was delivered to Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center for launch preparations on 9 April 2012,[44] while its Long March 2F carrier rocket arrived a month later on 9 May.[45]

Shenzhou 9 launched successfully on 16 June 2012, carrying with it China's first female astronaut, Liu Yang.[15][17][21][46] The spacecraft docked with Tiangong-1 on 18 June 2012 at 14:07 Beijing time (06:07 GMT; 07:07 BST).[16] After about three hours, when the air pressures inside the two vessels were equalized, mission commander Jing Haipeng entered Tiangong-1.[47] The first docking was entirely computer-controlled, without input from the three astronauts;[16] a second, crew-guided docking was successfully conducted on 24 June 2012 at 12:42 Beijing time.[48] Shenzhou 9 landed safely in Inner Mongolia on 29 June 2012.[49] In August 2012, Shenzhou 9's crew travelled to Hong Kong to discuss their mission with university students.[50]

Shenzhou 10[edit]

Main article: Shenzhou 10

The manned Shenzhou 10 spacecraft, the final Shenzhou mission to rendezvous with Tiangong-1 before its deorbit, was launched on 11 June 2013.[18][19][51] The launch of Shenzhou 10 was originally planned for earlier in the year, but was delayed to allow the mission to incorporate more complex scientific experiments.[52] The mission's crew included China's second female astronaut, Wang Yaping.[19] Shenzhou 10 docked successfully with Tiangong-1 on 13 June.[20]

On 15 June 2013, the Shenzhou 10 crew completed China's first orbital maintenance operation, replacing Tiangong-1's interior cladding.[53] Additional maintenance work was conducted on the space station's seal rings.[53] On 20 June, Wang Yaping delivered a remote video lecture from orbit to students across China, demonstrating physics in microgravity with her colleagues.[54] On 24 June, CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping contacted the astronauts via remote video link to congratulate them.[55] After a series of successful docking tests, Shenzhou 10 undocked and returned safely to Earth on 26 June 2013.[56] With a duration of 15 days, Shenzhou 10 was China's longest manned space mission to date.[57]

Map of Tiangong-1's orbits in June 2013.

Future development[edit]

Tiangong-1 is not planned to be a permanent orbital station; rather, it is intended as a testbed for key technologies that will be used in China's large modular space station, which is planned for launch in 2023.[9] Furthermore, modified versions of Tiangong-1, the Tianzhou, will be used as robotic cargo spacecraft to resupply this station. The launch mass of the Tiangong-1-derived cargo spacecraft is expected to be around 13 metric tons (29,000 lb), with a payload of around 6 metric tons (13,000 lb).[11][58][59][60]

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]