‘Dreaming of the Heavens’: China launches final module to space station

BEIJING, Oct 31 (Reuters) – China on Monday launched the last of three modules that will house its space station, making it the second permanent manned space in orbit after the International Space Station led by NASA.

The Mengtian module, or “Dreaming of Heaven”, was launched atop China’s most powerful rocket, the Long March 5B, at 3:37 pm (0737 GMT) from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in the southern province of Hainan Island.

In April 2021, China began construction of its space station with the launch of the Tianhe module, a large space station for astronauts. In July this year it established Wentian, or “Quest for the Heavens”, a laboratory section where scientific experiments will be conducted.

The 23-tonne Mengtian, also part of the laboratory, is expected to dock with the axial port at the Tianhe end later on Monday.

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But the space station will only take its final T shape – with the Tianhe as the core connected to the two lab modules – when the Mengtian is repositioned, while en route, to one of the Tianhe ports on its side.

The completion of China’s space station, which is designed to last at least 10 years, will be a key step in China’s ambitions for a low-cost orbit, while NASA’s aging ISS could end by the end of the decade.

A LOT OF DIFFERENCES

The “Celestial Palace” built by China, as the space station is known at home, will also be a symbol of China’s growth and self-confidence in its space activities and a rival to the United States in the region, from a distance. ISS is another collaboration with NASA.

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The site also includes President Xi Jinping’s 10 years as leader of China’s ruling Communist Party.

During this broadcast, China is planning more than 1,000 scientific experiments – from studying how plants change in space to how water behaves in microgravity.

International demand for experiments to be carried out on the Chinese space station will also increase if the ISS retires in the coming years. More than 3,000 scientific experiments have been conducted in the ISS since November 2000.

China has accepted at least nine ideas from scientists in countries ranging from Switzerland to India in the first round of experiments in collaboration with the United Nations space agency.

Russia’s space agency in August unveiled a stunning photo of the Russian-made space station, its last appearance for years.

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Two more missions this year are needed before the Chinese station is ready.

The autonomous cargo space shuttle – Tianzhou-5 – is expected to launch in November, before three astronauts arrive in December aboard Shenzhou-15 for an extended stay on the space station.

China’s space program has come a long way since former leader Mao Zedong complained that the country could not even launch a potato into orbit.

China became the third country to put a man in space with its own rocket, in October 2003, following the former Soviet Union and the United States.

Ryan Woo reports; Edited by Shri Navaratnam, Edmund Klamann and Nick Macfie

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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