China Launches First Section of Its New Space Station

Tianhe launch
The Tianhe core module of the Chinese Tiangong 3 space station launched on April 29, 2021. CNSA /

A Long March 5B rocket roared to life over the Wenchang Space Launch Centre late final evening, carrying the core module, named Tianhe (that means “harmony in the heavens” in Chinese), for China’s modular Tiangong 3 space station.

The launch occurred at 11: 23 p.m. EDT / 3:23 Universal Time (UT). China later confirmed that the 22.5-ton Tianhe module had efficiently reached orbit.

“The success of this launch mission marks the full launch of the orbital assembly and construction of the Chinese space station, laying a solid foundation for subsequent key technology verification and the smooth implementation of the space station’s assembly and construction,” says Hao Chun (China Manned Space Engineering Office) in a recent press release.

The station is about for 15 years of operation. Two different modules are as a result of launch by early 2022: the Wentian Experimental Module and the Mengtian Experimental Module, each of which can connect to the Tianhe core module.

Tianhe is much like the central Zarya module on the coronary heart of the International Space Station; that module launched in 1998.

The space station will start to just accept automated Tianzhou cargo automobiles and crewed Shenzhou spacecraft, beginning maybe as early as subsequent month. It’s unsure at this level if three-person crews will perform a everlasting presence on the space station, or whether or not they’ll rotate out in non permanent expeditions.

Tianhe and the bigger Tiangong 3 space station it is a half of keep in mind classes discovered throughout the earlier Tiangong 1 space station, which began in 2011, and Tiangong 2, which began in 2016. Those early one-module stations let China apply key parts wanted for a bigger platform, together with automated rendezvous, docking, and lengthier stays in space.

Chinese space station interior
This simulation reveals the inside of the finished space station. Take the digital tour here.

U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) restricts know-how commerce between the U.S. and China, making China one of the few space-faring nations that’s conspicuously absent from the International Space Station. Though China is basically going it alone in space, the nation’s space agency might open up its personal space station to worldwide participation.

Though the International Space Station has hosted a steady human presence in space since 2000, this might effectively finish within the coming years. Though the U.S. as soon as once more has the aptitude to ship crew to the station due to SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, Russia has hinted at leaving the ISS partnership, maybe as early as 2025. This may imply China’s station may take up the mantle of persevering with a human presence in low-Earth orbit by the late 2020s.

The launch follows a string of successes in space for China over the previous year, together with the Chang’e 5 lunar sample return in late 2020 and the arrival of the Tianwen 1 mission in orbit round Mars earlier this year. Tianwen 1 is about to deploy its lander and rover on Mars this coming May.

How to Observe Tiangong 3

China's space station (art)
An artist’s conception reveals a crewed Shenzhou spacecraft docked with the Tianhe module.

Like the ISS, Tianhe will even be extremely seen in orbit as meeting begins. The core module is listed as COSPAR ID 2021-035A and orbits each 92 minutes at an altitude of 370 kilometers (230 miles), inclined 41° relative to Earth’s equator. This means the orbit reaches its farthest level north proper over latitude 41°N, roughly similar to New York City, Chicago, and Salem, Oregon. Heavens-Above will checklist the station on their entrance web page.

Watch for a superb go of the Tainhe core module and the brand new space station because it takes form, coming to a sky close to you.


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