HELSINKI, Finland — China has lowered the orbit of its Tiangong-2 space lab, likely in preparation for deorbiting the orbital facility and thus averting a similar scenario to the uncontrolled re-entry of Tiangong-1 earlier this year.
Tiangong-2 was launched in September 2016 to test advanced life support and refueling and resupply capabilities via the crewed Shenzhou-11 and uncrewed Tianzhou-1 cargo missions, in preparation for constructing a large, modular space station in low Earth orbit.
Orbital information published by the U.S. Strategic Command’s Joint Force Space Component Command, through the Joint Space Operations Center, indicates that Tiangong-2 has moved from an altitude of around 380 by 386 kilometers down to 292 by 297 kilometers.
No announcement regarding the status of the Tiangong-2 space lab has been made. The China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSE), which manages China’s human spaceflight and space station related missions, did not respond to a SpaceNews request for comment.
Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told SpaceNews that, “it seems likely that the lowering of Tiangong-2’s orbit is the first step in safely disposing of it.”
McDowell says the orbit of Tiangong-2 was most likely lowered through two burns early June 13.