China’s Tiangong 2 space lab has a paparazzi traveling alongside it, in the form of a picture-snapping satellite that’s the size of a desktop printer.
The satellite, Banxing 2, was released from the lab over the weekend and has already captured hundreds of images of Tiangong 2 with the Shenzhou 11 spacecraft docked to it.
Testing what’s been called an orbital “selfie stick” is one of the prime objectives of the 30-day Shenzhou mission currently being conducted by Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong.
Banxing 2, which builds upon earlier experiments with inspection satellites, will fly in formation and take pictures in visible and thermal infrared wavelengths to monitor the space lab’s condition.
The 100-pound (47-kilogram), solar-powered satellite is due to use its ammonia thruster system to back away as far as 300 miles (500 kilometers) and then approach again for a close-in inspection. Banxing 2 is also expected to take pictures of Earth and monitor orbital debris.
Jing and Chen are due to leave Tiangong 2 in their Shenzhou craft and return to Earth in mid-November, capping off China’s longest crewed space mission.