The official launch of the station has been scheduled for 2023.
The Long March-5B launch vehicle successfully launched the Tianhe main module of China’s future multi-module orbital station into space. It is expected that the construction of the station will take two years, and the station itself will work for 10-15 years.
The project of the modular orbital station “Tiangong” (“Heavenly Palace”) is a new stage in the development of the Chinese manned space program, which started in the late 90s of the last century. Since then, China has launched several Shenzhou manned spacecraft into orbit. Moreover, two experimental stations were also launched, Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2.
Earlier today, China successfully launched the main module for the new space station and the orbital construction can officially begin.
10 things you need to know about the launch and future goals
1. China’s Tiangong space station will include three components. The main module Tianhe (Harmony of Heaven) which was launched today contains living quarters for three crew members, life support systems, control, navigation, and orientation of the station.
2. The two other models will contain different laboratories. The total mass of the station together with three docked ships can reach up to one hundred tons.
3. The Tianhe itself has a mass of about 22 tons and consists of three compartments: a service compartment, a laboratory compartment, and a spherical docking compartment. The module is 16.6 meters long and 4.2 meters in diameter.
4. Earlier today, the Long March-5B heavy launch vehicle brought the main module into orbit.
5. In mid or late May, the Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft will dock with the main module, and in June three taikonauts will arrive at the station aboard the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft.
6. It is expected that the station will be able to operate for 10-15 years but unless serious issues occur, these time periods could be increased in the future.
7. The main module was transported to 400 kilometers above land. When the station is complete, it should operate in low Earth orbit at an altitude of 340 km to 450 km.
8. According to the plan, the creation of a three-module station will be completed within 11 launches in 2021-2022: three launches of modules, four launches of cargo spaceships, and four launches of manned spacecraft with crews.
9. A dozen astronauts have already begun training for future flights and life on the Chinese station. These include newcomers, women, and veterans.
10. China’s space station will be able to house up to three astronauts regularly and up to six for 10 days during crew changes.
China’s Space Program: Other Missions and Goals
There was plenty of Chinese space news these past two days and besides the launch of the Tianhe module today, it was also revealed that the Chang’e-6 mission will fly to the moon in 2024.
Like Chang’e-5, the next mission will also automatically collect lunar samples for comprehensive analysis and research. The difference is that the probe will be sent to the South Pole-Aitken basin, located on the far side of the Moon.
The next three Chang’e missions will conduct important scientific research and technological experiments. China has revealed its goal to build a prototype research station on our natural satellite by 2030.
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• CNSA. (n.d.). China launches first section of its massive space station.
• Phys.org. (2021, April 28). China to Launch HEAVENLY HARMONY space station core module.
• Wall, M. (2021, April 29). China launches core module of new space station to orbit.