China launches second of three modules to its permanent space station

China launched the second of three modules that, together with the main body, make up the very ambitious Tiangong space station.

The new module, called Wentian, was launched on a Long March 5B rocket at 14:22 (06:22 GMT) on Sunday from the Wenchang Space Center on Hainan Island, China.

Wentian, a research laboratory dedicated to scientific and biological experiments, has already docked with the main body of the space station called Tianhe.

It will be followed by the second module of the Mengtian Research Laboratory, due to be launched in October this year.

When Mengtian connects with the rest of Tiangong, construction on the space station will finally be completed, although Beijing also plans to launch Xuntian, a space telescope that will co-orbit with the space station, in 2024.

Tiangong (meaning “heavenly palace”) will compete with the aging International Space Station (ISS), which is operated by the US, Canadian, Russian, Japanese and European space agencies.

It will consist of three modules, although two more spacecraft, Shenzhou and Tianzhou, which carry crew and cargo, respectively, can dock at the station.

A Long March-5B Y3 rocket carrying the laboratory module of China’s Wentian space station lifts off from Wenchang Space Center on July 24, 2022 in Wenchang, Hainan province, China.

A rocket carrying China's second module for the Tiangong space station lifts off from Wenchang Space Center in front of a crowd.

A rocket carrying China’s second module for the Tiangong space station lifts off from Wenchang Space Center in front of a crowd.

Wentian, which will become the base for scientific and biological experiments, has already docked with the main body of the space station.

Wentian, which will become the base for scientific and biological experiments, has already docked with the main body of the space station.

3D rendering of the Chinese Space Station or Tiangong Space Station as it will look when completed.  Tianhe is the main living quarters for the crew members.  Shenzhou is an existing spacecraft docking at a crewed station.  Tianzhou is an existing cargo transport spacecraft.

3D rendering of the Chinese Space Station or Tiangong Space Station as it will look when completed. Tianhe is the main living quarters for the crew members. Shenzhou is an existing spacecraft docking at a crewed station. Tianzhou is an existing cargo transport spacecraft.

WHAT IS TIANGON?

The Chinese space station is called “Tiangong‘ which means ‘Heavenly Palace’.

Tiangong consists of several different modules that run one after the other.

In April 2021, the main module called “Tianhe‘, was launched. Two months later, the first brigade arrived in Tianhe.

In July 2022 Wentiana smaller module in which research experiments will be carried out, attached to Tianhe.

In October 2022, the second module of the research laboratory, mengtian, will also be attached to Tianhe. When this happens, the Tiangong space station will be completed.

Two more spacecraft that can dock with the station – Shenzhou as well as Tianzhou – carry crew and cargo respectively and are not considered part of the station itself.

China also plans to launch Xuntiana space telescope that will be in the same orbit as the space station in 2024.

The launch of Wentian was “a complete success,” Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said.

After a 13-hour flight, Wentian successfully docked with the Tianhe residential area of ​​the Tiangong space station at 03:13 Monday (19:13 GMT), according to the China Manned Space Agency.

The three astronauts currently living in the main module during the six-month mission – Cai Xiuzhe, Chen Dong and Liu Yang – oversaw Wentian’s arrival and docking procedures.

The photographs show the three astronauts waving to the cameras inside the Wentian as they return to the Beijing Aerospace Control Center.

“This is the first time that China is docking such large craft together, which is a delicate operation,” said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Until the next module (Mengtian) arrives, the space station will have a “rather unusual L-shape” that will require a lot of power to keep stable, McDowell said.

“These are all technical problems that the USSR first posed with the Mir station in the late 1980s, but this is new for China,” he told AFP.

“But it will result in a much more powerful station with the space and power to do more science experiments.”

At nearly 18 meters (60 feet) long and 23 tons (48,500 pounds), the Wentian is heavier than any other single-module spacecraft currently in space, according to state-run Global Times.

The Wenchang Space Launch Center is a launch site on Hainan Island, China.

The Wenchang Space Launch Center is a launch site on Hainan Island, China.

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, an image captured from a screen at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center shows Chinese astronauts on the left, Cai Xuzhe, Chen Dong and Liu Yang wave from the Wentian Laboratory Module on Monday, July 25, 2022.

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, an image captured from a screen at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center shows Chinese astronauts on the left, Cai Xuzhe, Chen Dong and Liu Yang wave from the Wentian Laboratory Module on Monday, July 25, 2022.

Chinese astronaut Chen Dong works with equipment inside the Wentian Laboratory Module on Monday, July 25, 2022.

Chinese astronaut Chen Dong works with equipment inside the Wentian Laboratory Module on Monday, July 25, 2022.

The Tiangong Space Station, currently under construction, is visible in this artwork (file photo).

The Tiangong Space Station, currently under construction, is visible in this artwork (file photo).

MODULES OF THE CHINESE SPACE STATION

Tianhe: The main module. Launched April 29, 2021

Wentian: Experimental module I. Scheduled to launch in 2022.

mengtian: Experimental module II. Launch scheduled for 2022

Xuntian: Space telescope module. Planned launch in 2024 into a joint orbit with the Chinese space station.

It provides astronauts with a sealed environment for conducting zero-gravity testing, as well as a robotic arm for external experiments.

The Tianhe module of the new Chinese space station, which was launch of the first modulein April last year – is the main living quarters for crew members on board the Tiangong.

When completed, the Tiangong space station will weigh about 66 tons, much less than the ISS, which launched its first module in 1998 and weighs about 450 tons. It is expected that the service life will be at least 10 years.

The assembly of the ISS, which is currently in orbit, has taken 10 years and more than 30 missions since the launch of the first module in 1998.

The ISS is supported by five participating space agencies — NASA (US), Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe) and CSA (Canada), but the US initially barred China from participating.

The first Tiangong crew arrived in Tianhe in June 2021 and returned to Earth in September after a 90-day mission.

The second crew of two men and one woman – Zhai Zhigang, Ye Guangfu and Wang Yaping – arrived in mid-October 2021 and stayed there for much longer – six months.

In early November, Yaping became China’s first female astronaut after completing a six-hour mission outside the station with Zhigang.

Cai Xuzhe, Chen Dong and Liu Yang make up the third crew of three who lived on board the Tiangong.

They arrived in June of this year and will also likely spend six months on the space station, where they will be replaced by three more Chinese astronauts.

China has expanded its space program with an unmanned flight to the moon. returned the first lunar samples to Earth in more than 45 years – and unmanned probe launch to Mars, as well as the construction of its own space station.

On the contrary, the fate of the aging ISS, which has been in orbit for more than two decades, remains uncertain, and it may be decommissioned. and destroyed in 2031..

After what will become a remarkable 32-year career, NASA plans to sink the ISS into the ocean in one of the most remote places on Earth, also known as the “Spaceship Graveyard”.

CHINA EXPANDS PLANS TO BECOME A SPACE SUPERPOWER WITH HELP TO MARS AND THE MOON

Chinese space agency officials are working to become a space superpower alongside the US and Russia.

They have already sent the first lander to explore the far side of the moon, sharing photos of a part of our nearest neighbor that we rarely see on the Chang’e 4 mission.

In November 2020, they sent the Chang’e-5 space probe to the moon to collect and return the first samples of lunar soil in 45 years.

This was done in collaboration with the European Space Agency, which provided tracking information for the Chinese spacecraft.

Chang’e-6 will be the first mission to explore the lunar south pole, expected to launch in 2023 or 2024.

According to the China Space Administration, Chang’e-7 will study the earth’s surface, composition and space environment as part of the overall mission, while Chang’e-8 will focus on surface technical analysis.

China is also reportedly working on building a lunar base using 3D printing technology and sending a future crewed mission to the surface.

Mission number eight is likely to lay the groundwork for this as it seeks to test the technology intended for the project.

CNSA is also building a near-Earth space station where Chinese astronauts will conduct science experiments similar to the crew of the International Space Station.

The agency also launched a mission to Mars in the summer of 2020 and landed a rover on the Red Planet in May 2021.

It is also reported that China is working on a project to create a solar power station in space that will transmit energy back to Earth and become the largest artificial object in orbit.

They also have a number of ambitious space science projects, including satellites to look for signs of gravitational waves and Earth observation spacecraft to monitor climate change.