Watch China's Space Station Fall to Earth

The 34-foot long spacecraft was mostly destroyed during reentry on Friday, though some debris fell into the South Pacific sea.
​Artist impression of Tiangong-2 and Shenzhou spacecraft. Image: EG365.CN
Artist impression of Tiangong-2 and Shenzhou spacecraft. Image: EG365.CN

A Chinese space station plunged back to Earth on Friday at around 9:06 PM Beijing time, after spending roughly three years in orbit.

Tiangong-2, which is 34 feet long and weighs about 19,000 pounds, mostly burned up during the controlled reentry process. Some debris survived and fell into an unpopulated stretch of the South Pacific Ocean, according to the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA).

The spacecraft's final moments were captured by a camera mounted to its exterior.


The space laboratory was launched in September 2016 as part of China’s broader Tiangong program, which aims to build a space laboratory designed for long-term human habitation.

Astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong lived and worked on the spacecraft for a month between October and November of 2016. Their 33-day stint in space is the longest crewed spaceflight in China’s history, so far.

In 2017, Tiangong-2 docked with the uncrewed Tianzhou-1 spacecraft on three separate occasions. The maneuvers successfully demonstrated the cargo delivery and refueling process for the future space station, which will be similar in size to Russia’s Mir spacecraft.

The core module of China’s new station, called Tianhe-1, is currently on track for launch in 2020, and is designed to support a crew of three astronauts. China plans to add more modules over the course of the 2020s, and anticipates that the station will operate for at least a decade.