China has successfully deorbited the Tiangong-2 space station after 1,036 days, 22 hours, 54 minutes and 56 seconds in orbit. The station was brought down in a controlled re-entry over a safe area in the Southern Pacific Ocean.
Tiangong-2 was a single-launch space station that was built to serve as a test for key technologies that will be used aboard the China Space Station.
The station was launched aboard a Long March 2F on September 15, 2016. Just over a month later, the crewed Shenzhou 11 spacecraft was launched and docked with the station on October 19, 2016. The two-man crew remained on-board for 26 days and 11 hours, the only time the station was ever occupied.
Over the next year, a total of three uncrewed spacecraft docked with the station to refuel the orbiting space laboratory. In June 2018, operators on the ground commanded the station to perform orbital manoeuvres that lowered its orbit to 292 × 297 kilometres, a move that at the time was seen as the country preparing for deorbiting.
Finally, on 19 July, China completed a controlled re-entry of the 8.6-ton Tiangong-2 space station over the Southern Pacific Ocean. Chinese officials confirmed a loss of signal at 13:08:44 UTC. Although most of the station burnt up in the atmosphere during reentry, a small amount of debris fell within the designated safe area.
The controlled re-entry of Tiangong-2 is a stark contrast to that of its predecessor. Tiangong-1 was left to decay gradually with many in the final weeks before re-entry predicting that debris could fall over populated areas.