China commissions second space station module

(ORDO NEWS) — China is about to add a new bay to its space station after the launch of the Wentian module.

The Wentian module was sent into orbit on a heavy Long March 5B rocket that lifted off at 2:25 am EDT (0625 GMT or 2:25 pm Beijing time) on July 24 from the Wenchang Cosmodrome on the southern island of Hainan.

The 58.7-foot (17.9-meter) module will soon match the orbit of China’s first module, Tianhe, which was launched in April 2021. The Wentian is expected to rendezvous and dock with the port attached to the Tianhe later Sunday.

Wentian, which literally means “reaching for the skies,” is the second of three modules planned to be launched by China. The third, called Mengtian, is scheduled to launch in October and will complete the Tiangong T-shaped space station.

Including the Shenzhou crewed spacecraft and the Tianzhou cargo ship docked at the station, the completed Tiangong will be about 20% more massive than the International Space Station (ISS), which weighs about 460 tons.

Three astronauts from the Shenzhou 14 mission are currently aboard the Tianhe, awaiting the arrival of the new module. According to Chinese state media, in the near future, the trio will hold the first live science lecture from the Wentian after testing.

Wentian’s main role is to house a series of experimental cabinets that will allow astronauts to conduct a wide range of scientific experiments in orbit; it also carries solar panels and a new EVA airlock.

In addition, the ship has additional sleeping quarters for astronauts, allowing China to conduct a crew transfer during which six crew members temporarily remain on board the Tiangong; the first such transmission is expected to occur before the departure of the current crew in December.

Although Wentian will begin its sojourn at Tianhe’s forward docking port, the main module’s 33-foot (10 m) robotic arm will be used to move Wentian to the side port sometime in the coming months.

Earlier this year, China tested the necessary maneuvers with the Tianzhou 3 cargo spacecraft, which brought supplies to the space station to support the previous crew flight. The spacecraft was released a few days ago to make way for the arrival of the Wentian.

Wentian also carries its own 16.4-foot (5-meter) long robotic arm, which will be able to work on its own or connect to Tianhe’s larger arm.

China began its space station project back in 1992, approving a plan to develop capabilities to launch astronauts into space, test life support aboard small space labs, and build new large rockets capable of launching modules such as the Tianhe and Wentian modules weighing about 48,500 pounds (22,000 kilograms).

The country plans to keep the Tiangong space station with a permanent crew for at least ten years, with each crew of three astronauts spending six months on board.

China also said that in the future it will allow foreign astronauts and even space tourists to visit the orbital outpost, as well as conduct international experiments, the first of which have already been selected.

The space station will also support the powerful Xiongtian Space Survey Telescope, which China plans to launch around 2024. The Hubble-class observatory will operate in an orbit similar to Tiangong’s, which means it will be able to dock at the station for refueling, upgrades and repairs.


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