On Thursday China launched its Tianhe module, the central module for its planned Tiangong space station.
The Chinese space module lifted off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center, located on China’s southern Hainan island. The launch of the space module was televised by China Central Television (CCTV).
The Tianhe or “Heavenly Harmony” module, a 54-foot cylinder weighing about 25 tons, has enough living space for three Chinese astronauts, known as Taikonauts, according to Asia Times.
China has an additional 11 missions planned to complete the full Tiangong or “Heaven’s Palace” space station. Two more Long March 5B launches are planned to take place within the next 18 months to take up more parts and assemble them in orbit. In addition to the Tianhe module, China will add two more lab modules, the Wentian and Mengtian. The Chinese space station is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2022.
Once fully assembled, the Tiangong space station is expected to remain in low earth orbit for 15 years, or potentially longer. The Chinese state-run Xinhua News reported the Chinese space station will be tasked with carrying out long-term scientific and technological experiments and explore space resources in low-Earth orbit
China’s Tiangong space station is scheduled to be the only habitable artificial satellite in space after the International Space Station (ISS) is decommissioned in 2024.
The Chinese space station will have a total interior space of 110 cubic meters (about 3885 cubic feet). By comparison, the ISS, assembled by the U.S., Russia and the European Union had 916 cubic meters (about 32348 cubic feet) of interior space.
Once assembled, the T-shaped Chinese space station will have a total interior space of 110 cubic meters (about 3885 cubic feet). By comparison, the ISS, assembled by the U.S., Russia and the European Union had 916 cubic meters (about 32348 cubic feet) of interior space.
China has reportedly offered to open the Tiangong to foreign collaboration, though it has not specified how collaboration may work.
The U.S. has blocked China from participation on the ISS. China’s state-run Global Times has reportedly suggested the Chinese government should invite NASA to send American astronauts to the Tiangong as space programs as a way to invite collaboration, however the China Exclusion Policy introduced by the Barack Obama administration bars NASA from working with China.
Following the successful launch of the Tianhe module, China’s state-run Xinhua reported Chinese leader Xi Jinping said the module and the larger planned Tiangong space station will move China towards achieving an overall three-part space strategy and will boost China’s strength in science and technology, as well as in space.