The main module of the space station in China is now orbiting the Earth.
The module called Tianhe (“Harmony of Heaven”), starts on Wednesday night (April 28) on top of a Y2 Long March-5B launch vehicle from the Wenchang spacecraft launch site on the northeast coast of southern China’s Hainan Province.
Tianhe is the founding module for The first space station in China. The module is charged as the largest spacecraft the nation has ever developed; it is 16.6 meters long, 4.8 meters wide at its widest point and has a lifting mass of 22.5 tons.
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Quick start schedule
Wednesday’s launch will be followed by a rapid series of cargo and crew launches aimed at completing the construction of the space station by the end of 2022.
Space construction efforts require 10 additional launches from 2021 to 2022: two more module launches, four manned missions and four cargo ship fields, as well as reported by China Global Television Network (CGTN).
Three types of Long March launch vehicles will jointly launch the remaining 10 missions.
When completed, China’s orbital outpost will form a T-shape with Tianhe in the center and two other modules, Wentian and Mengtian, on each side, according to Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China’s manned space program.
Bai Linhou, deputy chief designer of the space station at the Chinese Academy of Space Technology (CAST), said the station could support a maximum of six astronauts at a time. Regular launches of crews and cargo spacecraft will ensure a long-term human presence in Earth orbit for research and services, Chinese authorities said.
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Crew and cargo
Shortly after the launch of the main module, Li Shanfu, commander-in-chief of flight missions for the space crew phase of China’s space program with a crew, announced that the Y2 Long March-5B rocket had just sent Tianhe into a predetermined orbit and that the solar panels the module was working well after unfolding. “I am now announcing that the launch mission of the Tianhe core module is a complete success!” Lee said.
Hao Chun, director of China’s manned space engineering office, told Chinese Central Television (CCTV): “Then we will launch the Tianzhou 2 cargo spacecraft in May and the Shenzhou 12 spacecraft in June. Three astronauts will remain in orbit for three months on the manned spacecraft 12 Shenzhou. “
Hao said the cargo ship Tianzhou 3 will take off for Tianhe this September, and the spacecraft Shenzhou 13 will follow in October. Shenzhou 13 will transport three astronauts who will stay on Tianhe for six months.
China plans to launch six more station missions in 2022. They will build the Wentian and Mengtian lab modules, two cargo spacecraft and two spacecraft, completing the assembly of the orbital outpost.
“The two manned spacecraft, also made up of three astronauts, will remain in orbit for about six months,” Hao said, referring to manned flights in 2022. “This is the general arrangement of our missions.”
The Chinese space station must operate in low Earth orbit at an altitude of 340 kilometers to 450 kilometers. It has a projected lifespan of 10 years, although it can last more than 15 years with proper maintenance and repair, CCTV reported.
You can watch a video of the Tianhe launch and get an overview of the plans for space stations in China here,, here and here.
Leonard David is the author of Moon Rush: The New Space Race, published by National Geographic in May 2019. A longtime writer for Space.com, David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.