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LOOK: 'Selfie Stick' Microsatellite Captures Snapshot of China’s Tiangong 2 Space Station

Oct 26, 2016 06:08 AM EDT
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A microsatellite dubbed "selfie stick" has taken a new image of the Chinese space station Tiangong 2 and the docked Shenzhou-11 spacecraft.

The Banxing-2 satellite, which is about the size of a desktop printer, was released from the space station on Sunday. The Chinese astronauts who boarded the station have been taking pictures using the satellite's 25-megapixel camera with wide-angle and infrared imagers.

"The companion satellite monitors the conditions of Tiangong II and Shenzhou-11 all the time, which is helpful in detecting failures," Chen Hongyu, chief engineer of the satellite program and a researcher from the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Microsatellite Innovation Institute, said in a report by Universe Today.

Banxing-2, which was developed and built at the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST), is tasked to photograph Tiangong 2 in orbit and perform a rendezvous exercise with the orbiting laboratory. It is composed of three solar panels, which could generate enough power to capture images of the station and the spacecraft. The 47-kilogram satellite is also equipped with an ammonia-based propulsion system and achieves a thrust of 85 Millinewtons and a specific impulse of 102 seconds, Spaceflight 101 reports.

Its predecessor, Banxing-1, completed the same mission with the Shenzhou-7 spacecraft in 2008. While Banxing-1 is bigger, the new Banxing-2 microsatellite has a higher capacity.

Astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong launched on Monday, Oct. 17 from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert aboard the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft powered by a Long March 2F rocket. The spacecraft successfully completed an automated approach and docked to the space lab on Tuesday, Oct. 18.

The duo is well into their 30-day mission, the longest Chinese mission in space to date. During this period, the astronauts will be performing scientific experiments inside the space lab, including biology, space life science and technological demonstrations.

The crew will also help prepare for future longer missions on a larger, modular space station, which is said to be launched by 2018.

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