China adds 23-ton science lab module to its orbiting space station

It will be followed by a second lab module, the Mengtian, due to be launched in October


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Published: Mon 25 Jul 2022, 8:14 AM

Last updated: Mon 25 Jul 2022, 11:56 AM

On Monday, China added a science laboratory to its permanent orbiting space station, as it inches closer to completing the structure in the coming months.

The Wentian lab module was launched on Sunday from the Wenchang space base, situated on the tropical island province of Hainan. A large crowd of amateur photographers and space enthusiasts witnessed this launch.

After 13 hours of flight, it successfully docked with the Tiangong station’s main living module, Tianhe, at 3.13am local time on Monday, according to the China Manned Space Agency.

The 23-ton Wentian is designed for science and biology experiments, and is heavier than any other single-module spacecraft currently in space, according to the state-owned Global Times.

It will be followed by a second lab module, the Mengtian, due to be launched in October. Three astronauts currently living in the core module on a six-month mission oversaw the Wentian's arrival and docking.

A Long March 5B-Y3 rocket, said to be China's most powerful one carried the module— the third launch of its kind, since the Chinese space station entered its construction phase. It was preceded by the Tianzhou-class cargo spacecraft, and the Shenzhou-14 crewed spacecraft.

China’s space program is run by the People’s Liberation Army and has largely proceeded with the Tiangong program without assistance from other nations. Years ago, the US had also excluded China from the International Space Station, due to its military ties.

China’s space program launched its first astronaut into orbit in 2003, making it only the third country to do so on its own, after the (former) Soviet Union, and the US.

So far, it has landed robot rovers on the moon, and also placed one on Mars last year. Their space program has returned lunar samples, and officials have discussed a possible crewed mission to the moon as well.


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