Thursday, May 17, 2012

Tiangong-1 Caught by Legault

The above drawing shows the Chinese experimental space station, Tiangong-1 (left), with a Shenzhou spacecraft docked (right). Image Credit: Wikipedia contributor "Craigboy"

On May 11th, French astrophotographer Thierry Legault posted online an image of the sun which included the silhouette of China's experimental space station, Tiangong-1. The spacecraft was passing across the face of the sun near the giant sunspot AR1476.

Tiangong-1 is much smaller than the International Space Station, but it can be seen with the naked eye shining in the night sky as brightly as the stars of the Big Dipper. The image by Legault may be seen online at this URL:

Tiangong-1 (meaning “Heavenly Palace 1") is a Chinese space laboratory module which is being used as an experimental test-bed to demonstrate the rendezvous and docking capabilities needed to support a space station complex. The Tiangong-1 spacecraft was launched by a Long March 2F/G rocket on September 29, 2011. Tiangong-1 is part of the Tiangong program, which has the goal of placing a larger, modular station into orbit by 2020. Tiangong-1 will be deorbited in 2013, and replaced over the following decade by the larger Tiangong-2 and Tiangong-3 modules.

Tiangong-1 is expected to be visited by three Shenzhou missions during its two-year operational lifetime. The first of these, the robotic mission Shenzhou 8, successfully docked with the module in November 2011, while the crewed Shenzhou 9 and 10 missions are expected to launch in 2012. Shenzhou 9 is not expected to launch before June.

To learn more about Tiangong-1, visit the following link at NASA’s National Space Science Data Center:


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