On June 13, China's Tiangong-2 space station fell from its normal circulation 242 miles to 183 miles. Will it also fall back to earth like Tiangong-1?
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The convicted space station successor, Tiangong-2, has also been observed to show strange behaviors. On June 13, Tiangong-2 unexpectedly fell from its normal circulation of 242 miles to 183 miles. Unlike the predecessor, spacecraft does not fall back to earth when the latter returned to its original position.
Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysician from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, revealed that the spacecraft returned to its normal circulation after spending 10 days in the lower orbit.
The unexplained maneuvering led to speculation that China might have to phase out spacecraft in a more controlled way than Tiangong-1.
McDowell said it's possible that the sinking of Tiangong-2's path marks the first step to safely abduct it. Tiangong-1 was released without control, but even managed to damage the ground.
McDowell also believes that space station likelihood is lowered by two burns early June 13th and then returned to higher lane through two more burns.  Phil Clark, who has observed China's space operations, has tracked the Tiangong-2 track since it was launched. He noted a recent relative lack of burns to raise the lane of the station, prior to last week's operations.
"China's part does not want a repetition of the Tiangong-1 villain," said Clark.
Tianhe 1 And Tiangong-2
It is still unclear what is the reason for the strange maneuver. However, nearly 900 kilograms of fuel still exist at the space station, which supports the idea that China is conducting safe distance tests.
"For this specific propulsion system, they may want more on orbit test data – especially to qualify the system's life span (measure performance after 2 years of circulation)," McDowell tweeted . "Maybe planning to use the same propulsion design at Tianhe."
Tianhe 1 is the core module of Tiangong-3 Space Station, China's first multimodule space that the country's eyes will complete in 2022 with three major modules in total. China anticipates that the first module will start around 2020.
Tiangong-2 was launched in 2016 and has served as a test bed for technology China wants to integrate in Tianhe. In 2016, two Chinese astronauts spent 30 days in circulation aboard the spacecraft, which is currently China's longest human space flow mission.
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