Despite being doomed to crash back to Earth, the Tiangong-1 has made impressive accomplishments throughout its entire lifetime, which include providing useful data during global disasters and helping China fine-tune its plans for a bigger space station.
Before losing contact with the China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSE), it managed to complete 1,630 days of service, though it has originally been designed for a two-year mission.
The prototype orbital facility was launched using a CZ-2F booster from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Sept. 29, 2011, and finished its final orbital adjustment by December 2015.
Based on the latest update issued by the European Space Agency on March 27, Tiangong-1 is expected for an uncontrolled reentry between the mornings of March 31 and April 2 in UTC time, somewhere along 43ºN and 43ºS latitudes.
Environmental Monitoring And Global Disaster Control
In 2014, CMSE officials announced that experimental space lab has obtained scientific data that is significant to the investigation of the Earth's mineral resources, the conservation of its oceans and forests, and monitoring of the global environment.
The same data proved useful in supplying images for emergency response in the midst of the Yuyao Flood Disaster and an Australian bushfire back in 2013. Though it wasn't released for public use, the information recorded by the facility was accessible to those who have paid for the service.
Experimental Model For China's National Space Station
From November 2011 until June 2013, it served as the target vehicle for three missions. Shenzhou 8 was the first to use the prototype as a rendezvous location in November 2011. The mission managed the safe harbor of two uncrewed vehicles within a period of 16.5 days.
The next mission, Shenzhou 9, followed in June 2012 with a crew of three. China's first woman in space Liu Yang was accompanied by two other astronauts, Jing Haipeng and Liu Wang. Under the mission, they spent a total of 10 days on the facility to test automatic and manual docking methods.
Shenzhou 10 was the last mission seen by the Tiangong-1. It arrived in June 2013, with a three-man crew comprised of Chinese astronauts Nie Haisheng, Zhang Xiaoguang, and Wang Yaping. They stayed for 15 days to perform experiments in the fields of science, technology, and space medicine. Wang, in particular, streamed physics classes through live television broadcasts.
The 30-Year Plan To Build China's Space Lab In Low Earth Orbit
The 9.4-ton facility, which name literally translates to "Heavenly Palace 1," is a part of the nation's 30-year plan to build and launch a larger space station into the low Earth orbit (LEO) by 2020.
According to a separate report, such plan has been in existence since March 1986. It was formulated out of a debate among more than a hundred Chinese experts and institutional leaders from relevant fields. Government leaders approved the initial phase of the plan in January 1992.
To track the Tiangong-1's anticipated crash, forecasts of the event is now updated every one to two days. Unfortunately, ESA cannot determine its exact time and location.