The Wentian lab was launched from the Wenchang space base in the island province of Hainan on Sunday, with a large crowd of amateur photographers and space enthusiasts watching the event.
After a 13-hour flight, the lab successfully docked at the Tianhe Habitat of the Tiangong Space Station at 3:13 a.m. Monday, according to the China Manned Space Flight Agency.
The photo, later released by the Xinhua news agency, shows three astronauts inside the expanded space station.
The Wentian 23-ton lab is designed for scientific and biological experiments and is currently the heaviest single-module spacecraft in space, according to the state newspaper Global Times.
The second segment of the lab, Mengtian, is due to be launched in October. The three astronauts, who began their six-month mission aboard the space station last month, oversaw Wentian’s arrival and docking.
China’s most powerful Long March 5B-Y3 rocket delivered the laboratory module in its third such launch since the Chinese space station entered construction. It was preceded by the Tianzhou-class cargo spacecraft and the Shenzhou-14 manned spacecraft.
China’s space program is run by the ruling Communist Party’s military wing, the People‘s Liberation Army. They are largely implementing the Tiangong program without the help of other countries. The US has excluded China from the International Space Station due to their military ties.
China launched its first astronaut into orbit in 2003, becoming only the third country to do so on its own after the Soviet Union and the United States.
China’s space program has already landed robotic rovers on the moon and one robot on Mars last year. China has also brought back lunar samples, and possible manned missions to the moon are already being discussed.
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