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Satellite of Tiangong-2 sends back valuable photos

A printer-sized satellite launched from China’s Tiangong-2 space lab on Oct 23 has taken several infrared photos of the lab and the recently launched Shenzhen-11 spacecraft. The first set of these has been sent back to earth.

All 300 pictures were shot by an infrared camera installed on the accompanying satellite. The high-resolution camera started to work after its separation from the Tiangong-2, and took photos of both the space lab and the spacecraft.

“This photo was shot by the accompanying satellite during its early release phase, about 29 meters away from the group. The upper part is the Tiangong-2, while the lower part is the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft,” said Lyu Congmin, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

There is also a video clip of the release process of the satellite, filmed by the two astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong.

“This black box is the accompanying satellite. It’s on a high-speed movement in orbit with a direction from Kashgar in China’s northwest Xinjiang to Southern China’s Sanya. And the white stuff are clouds above the earth,” Lyu said.

Experts say it is really difficult to take a clear photo since both the accompanying satellite and its subjects are in the process of high-speed movement. This requires the satellite to have a strong ability to conduct efficient orbit control.

“One of the key elements in taking a clear photo is the lighting environment. This requires the satellite to control its movement accurately while in orbit to gain the best relative position among itself, the spacecraft and the sun,” said Li Gefei, researcher with Beijing Aerospace Control Center.

Aside from taking photos, the accompanying satellite will also carry out space experiments with the Tiangong-2.