China launches core module of its space station

3 Chinese astronauts to be sent into space this year as China moves to complete its space station

Riyaz Ul Khaliq   | 29.04.2021
China launches core module of its space station


With eyes to complete its construction by next year, China on Thursday sent into space the core module -- Tianhe -- of its upcoming T-shaped space station.

Indigenously built Long March-5B Y2 rocket carried the Tianhe, meaning Heavenly Palace, state-run Xinhua News reported.

The module -- the largest spacecraft developed by China so far -- was launched from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on the coast of the southern island province of Hainan.

Bai Linhou, the deputy chief designer of the space station at the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), said the core module “will act as the management and control hub of the space station Tiangong with a node that could dock with up to three spacecraft at a time for short stays, or two for long.”

The academy works under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.

On successful launch of the module, Chinese President Xi Jinping said China's space station construction has entered the full implementation stage, which lays a solid foundation for the follow-up tasks.

According to details released by the space academy, Tianhe has a total length of 16.6 meters (54.5 feet), a maximum diameter of 4.2 meters (13.8 feet), and a takeoff mass of 22.5 tons.

“We will learn how to assemble, operate, and maintain large spacecraft in orbit, and we aim to build Tiangong into a state-level space lab supporting the long stay of astronauts and large-scale scientific, technological and application experiments,” said Bai.

“The station is also expected to contribute to the peaceful development and utilization of space resources through international cooperation, as well as to enrich technologies and experience for China's future explorations into deeper space,” he added.

Laying the foundation of the space station, the officials said: “Tianhe will help China's aerospace engineers carry out the verification of key technologies, including flexible solar wings, in-orbit assembly and maintenance, and above all a new life support system.”

The CAST details said when the space station finally docks with both manned and cargo spacecraft, “its weight could reach nearly 100 tons.”

The space station has a designed lifespan of 10 years. But appropriate maintenance and repairs could extend its life to more than 15 years, Chinese experts said.

China to send 3 astronauts into space this year

Hao Chun, the director of the China Manned Space Agency, said China will send the Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft and Shenzhou-12 manned craft this year to dock with the core module where three astronauts will be aboard Shenzhou-12 and will stay in orbit for three months.

“We will transport support materials, necessary spare parts and equipment first, and then our crew,” he said.

So far, the longest stay in space by any Chinese astronaut has been 33 days.

“In previous missions, we sent water and oxygen to space along with astronauts. But for a stay of three to six months, water and oxygen would stuff the cargo craft full with no room for other necessary goods and materials. So, we installed the core module with a new life support system to recycle urine, exhaled breath condensate, and carbon dioxide,” said Bai, the CAST official.

China has planned more than 40 launches this year and six more next year, including the launch of the Wentian and Mengtian lab modules, two cargo spacecraft, and two manned spaceships to complete the construction of the space station.

“We have to make sure every launch is reliable and operation of spacecraft in orbit is safe and sound. Every mission is a test for our organization, management, technology, and support ability,” said Zhou Jianping, the chief designer of the manned space agency.

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