China on July 24, 2022 successfully launched the first lab module for its under-construction space station, the latest step in the country's ambitious programme to complete it by year's end.
The giant Long March-5B Y3 carrier rocket, carrying Wentian, blasted off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on the coast of the southern island province of Hainan, according to the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA).
The new module will function both as a backup of the core module, Tianhe, and as a powerful scientific experiment platform in the space station currently being built by the country.
China is on the track to completing the construction of its space station as it successfully launched the first lab module, state-run People's Daily reported.
The construction of China's space station called Tiangong is expected to be completed this year.
It will then evolve from a single-module structure into a national space laboratory with three modules -- the core module, Tianhe, and two lab modules, Wentian and Mengtian.
The Tianhe module was launched in April 2021, and the Mengtian module is set to be launched in October this year, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported In the next couple of hours, the Wentian will rendezvous and then dock with the Tiangong station's Tianhe core module, the CMSA said.
After that the three-member crew mission commanders — Senior Colonel Chen Dong, Senior Colonel Liu Yang and Senior Colonel Cai Xuzhe currently building Tiangong station — will enter the lab module to check its condition and internal equipment, it said.
In the coming weeks, Wentian will be repositioned by a robotic apparatus from the forward docking port to a lateral port, where it will remain and be prepared for long-term operation, it said.
To prepare for the Wentian's arrival, a cargo spacecraft Tianzhou 3 detached from the Tiangong station on July 17 and it will be guided by ground controllers to fall back to Earth in due course, it said.
Currently, Tiangong consists of the Tianhe module, the Tianzhou 4 cargo ship and the Shenzhou XIV spacecraft.
Wentian lab features cutting-edge technologies, strong capabilities, and sophisticated design and represents a new milestone in China's space industry, state-run China Daily reported.
It consists of three major parts – a crew working compartment, an airlock cabin and an unpressurised service module.
Once ready, China's low-flying space station will be the only country to own a space station. The International Space Station (ISS) of Russia is a collaborative project of several countries.
China Space Station (CSS) is also expected to be a competitor to the ISS built by Russia.
Observers say CSS may become the sole space station to remain in orbit once the ISS retires in the coming years.
The significant feature of China’s under-construction space station is its two robotic arms, especially the long one over which the US has previously expressed concern over its ability to grab objects including satellites from space.
The 10-meter-long arm earlier successfully grabbed and moved a 20-tonne Tianzhou-2 cargo ship in a test, according to China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO).