China launches second unit to complete its fastest space station in history

China launched the second of its three units needed to complete its space station on Sunday in construction in space, in a “demanding” operation that requires high precision manipulations.

The 20 ton unmanned unit, named “Wentian”, was sent with a “Long March 5B” missile at 14:22 (0622 GMT) from the Wenchang Launch Center on the tropical island of Hainan (south), according to television scenes. Official CCTV. Hundreds of people gathered on nearby beaches to photograph the rocket rising in a cloud of white smoke.

After eight minutes into the flight, “Wentian successfully separated from the rocket to get on in orbit as planned, “wrote the space agency responsible for manned flights (CMSA). This 18-meter-long, 4.2-meter-diameter laboratory unit in Tianhe will dock with the first unit in building the station that is in orbit since April 2021. The operation is a challenge for the crew in as it requires a lot of high-precision manipulations, some use a robotic arm. “This is the first time China has had to fuse such large compounds together,” Harvard-Smithsonian Center astronomer Jonathan McDowell told AFP. for Astrophysics, pointing out that it was a “delicate process”. A process that China will have to repeat later in 2022 when it launches the last unit to complete its space station. Ultimately, “this will allow the station to be more efficient, with the space and the ability to conduct more scientific experiments,” McDowell pointed out.

“The fastest”

This new unit, which includes three sleeping areas, toilets and a kitchen, contains shelves for scientific experiments. Wentian will also act as a backup platform to control the space station in case of failure. Call in Chinese for Tiangong (“Heavenly Palace”) but also known by the acronym CSS (“Chinese Space Station” in English), the station is expected to be fully operational by the end of the year. After Wentian, the three Shenzhou-14 astronauts currently at the station will receive the third and final Mingtian unit in October. Once these two test units are installed, the overall station structure will be final, in the form of the letter T (“T”). It will therefore be similar in size to the former Russian Soviet Mir station. Its duration should be at least ten years, up to 15 years. “Therefore, the construction of the Chinese space station will be completed in only a year and a half, which is the fastest in history for a space station, “said Chen Lan, analyst at Go-Taikonauts.com, a site web specialized in the Chinese space sector.

“For comparison, it took 10 and 12 years to build the Mir and the International Space Station respectively.”

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Moon and Mars

For the first time, two Chinese crews will carry out a handover in orbit at the station. This process is expected to take place in December, when astronauts from the Shenzhou-14 mission return to Earth to be replaced by astronauts from the Shenzhou-15 mission. China has been pushed to build its own station due to its exclusion from the International Space Station, as the United States prevents NASA from collaborating with Beijing. The Asian giant has been investing billions of dollars in its space program for decades.

China sent its first astronaut into space in 2003. Since then, it has achieved great results, especially in recent years. In early 2019, for the first time in history, a Chinese boat landed on the dark side of the moon. In 2020 he returned samples from the moon and completed the “Beidou” satellite navigation system, which is a competitor to the United States Global Positioning System (GPS). In 2021, a small Chinese robot landed on Mars. Beijing plans to send astronauts to the moon by 2030.