Space lab launches ‘Selfie Stick’
The Tiangong II space laboratory released its companion satellite, Banxing-2, at 7:31 am on Sunday.
Weighing 47 kilograms and roughly the size of a desktop printer, the microsatellite has a series of visible light cameras, including a 25 megapixel camera and wide-angle imagers. Its mission is to take photographs of Tiangong II and the Shenzhou XI spacecraft, which docked with the lab on Wednesday.
The satellite, which China Central TV has nicknamed “Selfie Stick”, also has an infrared camera that is temperature-sensitive, said Chen Hongyu, chief engineer of the satellite program and a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Microsatellite Innovation Institute.
“Like a private nurse for Tiangong II and Shenzhou XI, the companion satellite monitors their conditions all the time, which is helpful in detecting failures,” he said.
With three solar panels, the satellite can also generate enough power to adjust its orbit to shoot pictures of the lab and spacecraft.
Its predecessor, Banxing-1, accomplished the same mission for Shenzhou VII in 2008. The new model is smaller and has a higher capacity.
Microsatellites weigh 500 to 100 kilograms and are usually cheaper, faster and more advanced than traditional satellites. The commercial potential has attracted much attention from businesses.
“If a company can combine microsatellites with internet services, it could produce and launch personalized satellites at a very low price,” said Wang Huiquan, deputy director of Zhejiang University’s Microsatellite Research Center.
On Friday, the United States government unveiled a project aimed at boosting the commercial space industry by pushing for NASA to invest $30 million in microsatellites to allow smaller companies to engage in the industry.
The Banxing-2 microsatellite will take pictures of the Tiangong II space lab and the Shenzhou XI spacecraft.