Daily US Times: China has launched a key module of a new permanent space station, the latest in the country’s increasingly ambitious space program.
The Tianhe module – which contains living quarters for crew members – was launched from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre on a Long March-5B rocket. Tianhe in China means for harmony of the heavens.
Beijing hopes to have the new station operational by 2022.
The only space station currently in orbit is the International Space Station (ISS), from which China is excluded.
China has been a late starter of space exploration. It was only in 2003 that the country sent its first astronaut into orbit, making it the third country to do so, after the Soviet Union and the United States.
So far, Beijing has sent two previous space stations into orbit. The Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2 were trial stations though, allowing only relatively short stays for astronauts.
“Tianhe” is set to be operational for at least ten years.
China plans to have at least ten more similar launches carrying more modules for the space station before the completion of the Tiangong space station next year, which will orbit Earth at an altitude of 340 to 450km.
The only current space station in orbit is the ISS which is a collaboration of the US, Canada, Russia, Europe and Japan. China has been blocked from participating in the ISS.
The International Space Station is due to be retired after 2024, which could potentially leave Tiangong as the only space station in Earth’s orbit.