The ambitious space program of China got a major boost on April 29, 2021, when it successfully launched the core module of its space station into orbit. The module was sent as part of the country’s aim to complete the construction of the facility by the end of 2022.
The Long March-5B Y2 rocket of China, carrying the Tianhe module, blasted off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site.
Tianhe, meaning harmony in heaven, a module which was encased in the extra-large fairing of the state-of-the-art Long March-5B launch vehicle successfully reached the designated orbit after a flight of around one hour.
The President of China, Xi Jinping congratulated the team on the successful launch of the core module of China’s space station. In his message, he stated that the successful launch of the core module marks that the space station construction has entered the full implementation stage. It further lays a solid foundation for follow-up tasks.
China sent into space the core module of its space station, kicking off a series of key launch missions that aim to complete the construction of the station by the end of next year. #GLOBALink pic.twitter.com/wVvQeILlab
— China Xinhua News (@XHNews)
April 29, 2021
About Tianhe Module:
• The module will act as the management and control hub of the space station Tiangong with a node that will be able to dock with up to three spacecraft at a time for short days or 2 for long period.
• Tianhe module has a total length of 16.6 m, a maximum diameter of 4.2 m, and a take-off mass of 22.5 tonnes. It is the largest spacecraft developed by China.
• As the foundation of the space station, Tianhe will help the aerospace engineers of China to carry out the verification of key technologies. It will include flexible solar wings, a new life support system, and an in-orbit assembly and maintenance.
Other spacecrafts to be sent dock with core module:
China will also be sending Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft and Shenzhou-12 manned craft later in 2021 to dock with the core module. Three astronauts will be on board Shenzhou-12 and they will stay in the orbit for three months.
The director of the China Manned Space Agency has informed that the team will be transporting support materials, equipment, and necessary spare parts first and then the crew.
Shenzhou-13 manned spaceship and Tianzhou-2 cargo craft will also be sent later this year to dock with Tianhe. Another three astronauts will then begin their six-month stay in orbit.
Tiangong: China’s space station
• China’s ambitious space station will be operating in low-Earth orbit at an altitude from 340 km to 450 km.
• The station has a designed life span of 10 years but the experts believe that it will be able to last for more than 15 years with appropriate repair and maintenance.
• According to the Deputy chief designer of the Space Station, Bai Linhou, the team will learn how to assemble, maintain and operate large spacecraft in the orbit.
• Tiangong will be built into a state-level space lab with an aim of supporting the long stay of the astronauts as well as the large-scale technological, scientific, and application experiments.
• Chinese Space Station is expected to contribute to the peaceful development and the utilization of space resources through international cooperation. It also aims at enriching the experience and technologies for the country’s future explorations into deeper space.
• In order to complete the construction of the space station in 2022, China plans to launch 6 missions which will include the launch of Mengtian and Wentian lab modules, two manned spaceships, and two cargo spacecraft. Five missions have already been launched in 2021.
China’s plan to be a space power:
China had launched its first Mars Mission ‘Tianwen-1’ on July 23, 2020, establishing itself as a major space power. The spacecraft on Mars which included a lander, rover, and orbiter is currently hovering around the red planet.
On the other hand, China’s ambitious space station is also expected to be a competitor of the International Space Station (ISS) which is to retire in 2024.
ISS is a multinational collaborative project which involved five participating space agencies including Roscomos (Russia), NASA (US), ESA ( Europe), JAXA (Japan), and CSA (Canada).