Coming back in a controlled manner

Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at Harvard University, said Tiangong-2 is orbiting along a relatively high orbit, at around 380 kilometers (240 miles), not much lower than the ISS at 410 kilometers (250 miles). Once its re-entry engines are fired, the lab will burn up over the ocean within 30 minutes. He noted that it’ll be hard to track it because “there will be no sign of impending re-entry until it is all over.”

Morris Jones, an Australian space analyst, said China can use the controlled re-entry to obtain crucial data. “They can monitor the rate of descent and how it breaks apart. This data is useful for understanding other re-entries,” Jones said in an email to Quartz.

Both labs helped pave the way for China’s space station, which it wants to get in place soon. A recent report from Spacenews, however, suggested that the Long March 5 launch vehicle (also known as CZ-5) isn’t ready. Deployment of the rocket, designed to transport the station’s core module, was delayed after a May launch failure.

“It seems that fixing the CZ-5 is taking much longer than expected, but they want to get it right,” Harvey said of Chinese space officials. “In the overall scheme of things, a delay of another year is frustrating, but of no long-term significance.”

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