It was long month for two Chinese astronauts remaining almost 400 km km above Earth inside Tiangong-2 orbital station. After mission Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong are already on Earth !
This mission started when Long March 2F/G was launched from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on October 17, 2016. Shenzhou-11 with two astronauts docked to Tiangong-2, which was cruising on its 385 km orbit two days later; Jing Haipeng with Chen Dong entered inside station for the first time since it was delivered to orbit on September 15, 2016. During lasting for 30 days mission they performed series of different scientific experiments, mainly focused on gathering experience useful during future long term space missions; for example they managed to plant lettuce inside special 3D printed container or conducted various experiments on materials used during manufacturing space vehicles. They have been continuously monitoring their physical condition under low gravity. Astronauts conducted also series of tests of Tiangong-2 and its subsystems, including one of the most important – they were using robotic arm installed outside the Station. It was first time in the history of Chinese space program, when astronaut was using robotic device installed in outer space. On October 22, 2016, they also deployed Banxing-2 satellite for visual monitoring of the Tiangong-2 station. In spite of number of tasks and objectives, astronauts managed to conduct conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping and answer the questions asked during live conference with journalists.
Yesterday in the early morning hours, Jing Haipeng with Chen Dong entered into orbital module. After sealing hatch and leak checks, they initialized autonomous undocking procedure to separate with their weighing 1500 kg (2.8 m x 2.25 m) orbital module from Tiangong-2. Next phase was to gradually increase distance from Station remaining on the same orbit as Tiangong-2. After 24 hours both astronauts left orbital module and took their places inside capsule – Soyuz-like construction, with mass of 3200 kg and dimensions of 2.5 m x 2.52 m. Shenzhou-11 jettisoned orbital module and next started four retro thrusters at 05:11 UTC for 1’15”. It resulted in enter into upper layers of atmosphere. At 05:35 UTC service module separated from capsule and burned in atmosphere. According to Chinese broadcast video four minutes later capsule performed reentry and after reducing speed to subsonic values it deployed pilot parachute and drag chute. Single main parachute was deployed in the end; next Shenzhou-11 released automatically its heat shield installed on the bottom of the capsule, still continuing light over Inner Mongolia landing zone. Just before touchdown, six solid rocket motors started to reduce shock during touch down and Shenzhou-11 landed after longest in history Chinese space mission. Crew members were helped by rescue teams to leave capsule and are healthy and in good physical condition.