China on Sunday launched the second of three units of its new space station under construction. This is evidenced by photos taken by the state-controlled CCTV television channel.
The Wentian science module, which weighs about 20 tons and has no astronauts on board, was launched on the Long March 5B launcher at 2:22 pm (8:22 am Belgian time) from the Wenchang launch site on the tropical island of Hainan (south).
At 18 meters long and 4.2 meters in diameter, the laboratory unit will be attached to the Tianhe, the station’s base unit, which has been in orbit since April 2021. The operation is challenging for the crew because it requires very precise maneuvers, some of which have to be performed using a robotic arm.
In addition to three bedrooms, toilets and a kitchen, the new laboratory unit is equipped with sections for science experiments. The Wentian will also act as an auxiliary platform to control the space station if something goes wrong.
Dubbed “Tiangong” (“Heavenly Palace” in Chinese) but also known by the acronym CSS (“Chinese Space Station” in English), the space station is expected to be fully operational by the end of the year.
T . shape
After Wentian this weekend, the three Shenzhou-14 mission astronauts, currently on the space station, are expected to welcome another lab unit, Mengtian, in October. Then the station will have its final T-shaped shape. Its size will be similar to the former Russian space station Mir. Tiangong shall last for at least ten years.
China has been investing billions of euros in its space program for decades. The Asian giant also sent its first astronaut into space in 2003. In 2019, the country landed a spacecraft on the far side of the moon, for the first time in the world. The following year, China returned samples from the Moon and, after another year, landed a small robot on Mars. China also plans to send people to the moon by 2030.
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