The United States could face challenges from china in the field of space research. The country's space lab Tiangong-2 was planned to be in space for two years and was in orbit for over 1,000 days which is nearly three years. During this period, two Chinese astronauts spent one month in the lab and conducted experiments on medicine, physics and biology. The lab is still functional but it will return to Earth in a controlled demolition mode. Major portions of the space lab will burn up in the atmosphere. Debris, if any, will crash into the South Pacific and not endanger any land.

The earlier Tiangong-1 fell to the Earth in free-fall mode after being in orbit for three years.

CNN reports that Tiangong means "Heavenly Palace" in English and these programs are stepping-stones to have a permanent space station by 2022. That is one part of the ambitious plan of China to get a foothold in space. The country wants to pursue plans for becoming a major partner that can contribute to space exploration.

China is already on the Moon

Americans shelved the Moon program after the first man set foot on its surface. China has stolen a march over the United States by landing a rover on the far side of the Moon. That was in January 2019 and it has many more missions lined up. Next year, their lunar mission Chang'e 5 will land there, collect samples and return to Earth.

The schedule for that manned lunar mission is in the 2030s. Its success will provide a boost to the plans of China because it will become a competitor for the United States when it comes to the colonization of the Moon.

CNN quotes an official of China’s National Space Administration as saying - "Our overall goal is that, by around 2030, China will be among the major space powers of the world." That was in 2016 and China appears to be working towards that objective.

With regard to Mars, it could send an unmanned probe by the end of 2020. The next stage would be the collection of surface samples from there to set the stage for a manned mission.

Tiangong-2 is the beginning

According to the New Scientist, the purpose of Tiangong-2 was to test technologies for China’s larger plans of a space station.

The size of its main module is smaller when compared to the International Space Station and it could launch in 2020. China has set the ball in motion. In October 2016, two astronauts went to Tiangong-2 and stayed there for a month conducting experiments on human physiology in space, apart from related areas of science. The next year, a cargo spacecraft docked with Tiangong-2 three times. That was to check out its docking and refueling capabilities. There was no intention to keep the space lab as a permanent fixture in orbit. It will now fall into the Pacific Ocean between New Zealand and Chile. Its end will herald in a new era for China’s missions to the Moon and Mars.