The 49-year-old spaceflight veteran Jing Haipeng and 37-year-old first-time flyer Chen Dong entered the Tiangong 2 space laboratory on Wednesday 19 October, following a successful automated rendezvous docking. They were launched to orbit aboard their Shenzhou 11 spacecraft vehicle two days before, from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre. Shortly after entering Tiangong 2, the two astronauts entered busy work routine onboard the space laboratory.
On Day 2 (20 October) of the station occupation, at 22:21 CST (14:21 UTC), under the command of mission control, the Tiangong 2-Shenzhou 11 complex carried out an orbital manoeuvre burn to lower its altitude by about 4 km, to 380 km. The complex also made a 180° turn in the azimuth direction, so that the Tiangong 2 module could resume its ‘normal’ flying position, with the docked Shenzhou 11 vehicle at front and the space laboratory’s engine thrusters towards back.
According to the Chinese state media, the two astronauts established a living and working routine in space, with an 8-hour working day, for six days a week. The time onboard the space laboratory has been set to the China Standard Time (Beijing time, UTC+8), in order to match the time zone at the mission control centre in Beijing.
The Chinese state media published a space journal kept by commander Jing Haipeng, which offered a glimpse of the crew’s busy life on orbit. In his journal, Jing noted a very busy first day onboard the space laboratory, with the work continuing well into late night past 22:00. The crew did not even have time for a hot meal and only took some snacks at breakfast and lunch. He also noted the improvement in living conditions compared with the previous space laboratory Tiangong 1, where he spent 10 days onboard in June 2012.
Over the coming weeks, the two astronauts will carry out a total 14 scientific and engineering experiments. On day one, they planted the seeds for a romaine lettuce growing experiment, and also prepared the silkworm cultivation experiment designed by Hong Kong students.
Chinese media also reported that the two astronauts watched live Chinese Central Television (CCTV) news programme in the evening of 21 October. According to Yang Liwei, China’s first man in space and now director of the Astronaut Centre of China (ACC), the Tiangong 2 space laboratory is capable of receiving live television programmes including news and sport matches.
On Day 5 (23 October), at 07:31 CST, the Shenzhou 11 crew released a CubeSat named Banxing 2 (BX-2), which was carried into space by Tiangong 2. Fitted with a 25-megapixel digital camera, the 47 kg satellite will capture orbital view of Tiangong 2-Shenzhou 11 and also demonstrate orbital flight in formation with the spacecraft complex. Its smaller sibling BX-1 was released by the Shenzhou 7 mission in September 2008, which Jing Haipeng also flew.
On Day 6 (24 October), commander Jing Haipeng celebrated his 50th birthday.
On Day 8 (26 October), Jing Haipeng tried a specially-designed suit for cardiovascular research in microgravity environment. In his email correspondence with the public, Jing said that he had adapted to life on orbit, spending on average six hours per day in sleep.