A Look Back on the Life of Tiangong II

At 21:06 on July 19, 2019, after 1036 days of in-orbit operation, Tiangong II derailed under control and re-entered the atmosphere. A small amount of debris fell into the safe sea area of the South Pacific, marking the successful completion of the space laboratory stage of China Manned Space Program.


On September 15, 2016, Tiangong II was successfully launched at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

On October 19, 2016, Shenzhou XI manned spacecraft and Tiangong II automatically rendezvoused and docked successfully. Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong entered the Space Laboratory on Tiangong II and began a 33-day space-resident life.

On April 22, 2017, Tianzhou I cargo spacecraft and Tiangong II successfully completed the automatic rendezvous and docking. On April 27th, Tianzhou I and Tiangong II completed the first on-orbit propellant adding test, making China the second country in the world to achieve on-orbit propellant adding in space.

On June 19, 2017, Tianzhou I successfully completed the second rendezvous and docking test with Tiangong II with a higher difficulty, which consolidated the multi-faceted space rendezvous technology of spacecraft.

Image of the docked Tiangong II-Shenzhou spacecraft shot by concomitant satellite


Tiangong II is China’s real space laboratory in any means. During its over 1,000 days of on-orbit mission, Tiangong II has supported 14 high-level space science and utilization tasks of 8 themes in 4 major fields, which was also the largest on scale with the broadest fields and the most complex system involved space science and utilization task so far.

In less than three years, Tiangong II has achieved a series of brilliant scientific results.

Major breakthrough in the frontier of space physics, key areas entered world's advanced ranks

For example, the ultra-high-precision space cold atomic clock experiment has achieved in-orbit operation for the first time in the world. According to the in-orbit test results, the daily stability of the cold atomic clock reaches 7.2×10^-16 (the error is 1 second per 30 million years), which is at the world’s leading level.

Space cold atomic clock

Multi-angle wide-band imaging spectrometer, three-dimensional microwave imaging altimeter, and ultraviolet edge imaging spectrometer for observation and remote sensing of land, sea and atmosphere have reached the international advanced level, and relevant technical systems have been applied to national key tasks such as ocean power satellites.

Three-dimensional sea surface in the East Pacific Ocean

Discovered new phenomena in multiple space science fields, obtained distinctive scientific results

In the long-period space higher plant culture experiment, Arabidopsis and rice were fortunately elected as “plant astronauts”, and completed the first full-cycle culture experiment of “from seed to seed” in 6 months, which serves as important provision for human to go on long-term space exploration.

Tiangong II Higher Plant Culture Experiment Return Unit - Arabidopsis Flowering
Microgravity fluid physics and materials science experiments have discovered a number of new scientific phenomena in the precious microgravity environment, which are of great value to basic research and engineering applications.

Break through and verify many key technologies on-orbitBreak through and verify many key technologies on-orbit

In addition to space science experiments, Tiangong II also broke through and verified dozens of strategic space new technologies and core key technologies, and self-developed multiple core detectors and components to verify a number of new technology systems and achieved more than 10 technology transfer and transformation, significantly improved the independent controllability and original innovation capability of space science and utilization of China.
Moreover, Tiangong II, which has been in service for extended time, has also carried out a number of experiments and obtained valuable scientific data.
In general, the implementation of the Tiangong II space science and utilization mission has laid a solid foundation for the large-scale development of space science and utilizations in China Space Station.


The original service life designed for Tiangong II is about two years. Now it is the third year of its extended service. During this period, she is in good condition and finished her work better than expected. She retires today, cherishing her love in her heart and giving the stage to the next generation of space station, successfully handed over the baton of China space science research and utilization to the next stop.


Before writing this article, we had the opportunity to visit the Technology and Engineering Center for Space Utilization, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CSU). CSU is the overall unit of the space utilization system of manned space program. The 14 scientific experiments of Tiangong II are all coordinated and supported here. Contrary to the hustle of the outside world and our slightly anxious mood, the atmosphere in the center is busy but calm, and the work of the scientists is not stopped. The curtain call of Tiangong II means, for them, the end of the previous journey, but it does not mean rest. They have already invested in the overall technical support work of the future space station and embarked on a new journey.

Here, let us pay tribute to Tiangong II, pay tribute to all scientists and astronauts. The future of China aerospace is optimistic and bright!


19th July 2019 From:
Questions and Comments to
No 9.Deng Zhuang South Rd, Hai Dian Dist,Beijing,100094,China
FAX:86-10-82178280 TEL:86-10-82178267
Copyright @2002-2013 Center for Space Utilization, CAS