China successfully launched and docked the final module of its Tiangong Space Station on Monday. The space station’s completion comes as China is seeking to overtake the U.S. as the dominant global power and as some U.S. officials believe China has already surpassed the U.S. in some aspects of space technology.
The final module for the Tiangong Space Station, the Mengtian Lab (which translates to “Dreaming of the Heavens”), launched on Monday and docked with the Chinese space station 13 hours later. Footage first shared by the Chinese state-run China Central Television (CCTV) and reshared by Space.com showed the final module docking with the space station.
The completion of the Tiangong Space Station comes about a year and a half after China launched the first portion of the station, known as Tianhe, on April 21, 2021.
Tianhe means “Harmony of the Heavens” and served as the core module for which the other portions of the station would connect. Tiangong itself means “Heaven’s Palace.”
The new Mengtian module will serve as the secondary lab module for the station. The first lab module, known as Wentian (“Quest for the Heavens”), connected to Tianhe in July of this year.
China has raised some tension with the international community over its handling of Tiangong’s construction. The various rocket boosters that carried Tiangong’s modules up into orbit have crashed back down to Earth in a manner that risked landing on populated areas.
Last year, Chinese officials criticized the U.S. and private space entrepreneur Elon Musk for a SpaceX rocket they alleged had a close encounter with China’s Tiangong station.
While the U.S. and China are competing in civilian space advancements, U.S. officials have also warned that China is developing a number of space-capable weapons.
Last year, U.S. Space Force Gen. David Thompson, who is the Vice Chief of Space Operations, said the U.S. and its allies are “still the best in the world” in terms of overall space technology, but that China has advanced at a greater pace than the U.S. and, in terms of hypersonic weapons, the U.S. has actually fallen behind.