Hundreds of people approached the Wentian launch zone , the second module of the Chinese Tiangong station that seeks to explore the universe alongside the ISS.
China launched the second of the three space station modules it is building on Sunday, a crucial stage in completing this ambitious project.
The module, called Wentian , weighing about 20 tons and without an astronaut on board, was propelled by a Long March 5B rocket at 2:22 p.m. (0622 GMT) from the Wenchang launch center on south China ‘s tropical Hainan Island .
Hundreds of fans lined the surrounding beaches to take photos of the rocket rising into the sky amid a cloud of white smoke.
After eight minutes of flight, ” Wentian successfully separated from the rocket to place itself in the planned orbit,” celebrated the space agency in charge of manned flights CMSA, which described the launch as “total success.”
About 18 meters long and 4.2 meters in diameter, this laboratory module will dock with Tianhe , the first module of the station that has already been in orbit since April 2021 .
The operation is a challenge for the crew because it requires several high-precision maneuvers, some of them through a robotic arm.
“This is the first time China has had to dock such large vehicles. It’s a delicate operation,” said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in the United States.
Provided with three spaces to sleep, bathrooms and a kitchen, the new module also has sectors for scientific experiences.
Wentian will also serve as a platform to control the space station in case of technical problems.
Baptized Tiangong (“Celestial Palace”) but also known by its acronym CSS (for “Chinese Space Station”, in English), the space station should be fully operational by the end of the year.
After Wentian this weekend, the three astronauts of the Shenzhou-14 mission, currently on the space station, will receive another laboratory module, Mengtian, initially during the month of October.
The station will then have its final “T” shape. It will be similar in size to the former Soviet-Russian space station Mir. His life expectancy would be at least 10 years.
“The CSS will be completed in just a year and a half, the fastest pace in history for a modular space station,” said Chen Lan, an analyst at the portal Go Taikonauts.com, which specializes in the Chinese space program.
“In comparison, the construction of Mir and the International Space Station (ISS) lasted 10 and 12 years respectively,” he said.
When Tiangong is finished, China will be able to conduct an in-orbit crew relief for the first time .
This changeover should take place in December, when the astronauts of the Shenzhou-14 mission, currently on the space station, make room for those of Shenzhou-15.
China was forced to build its own station following the refusal of the United States to allow it to participate in the ISS.
The Asian giant has been investing billions of dollars in its space program for several decades.
The Asian giant sent its first astronaut into space in 2003.
In 2019, the country landed a device on the hidden side of the Moon , an unprecedented event worldwide. In 2020, China collected samples from Earth’s satellite, and the following year it sent a small robot to Mars.