China launches main part of its first permanent space station

Joanna Estrada
April 29, 2021

The core module is the section of the station where astronauts will live for up to six months at a time.

But its role as the sole venue for a continuous human presence in space, scientific research and a testing ground for future space exploration is coming to a close, potentially signaling an end to an unparalleled era of worldwide cooperation in space.

China on Thursday sent into space the core module of its space station, starting a series of key launch missions that aim to complete the construction of the station by the end of 2022.

"We did not intend to compete with the ISS in terms of scale", Gu Yidong, chief scientist of the China Manned Space program, was quoted as saying by Scientific American.

The Long March-5B rocket will be tasked with transporting the two lab modules, the Long March-7 rocket will launch the cargo spacecraft and the Long March-2F will launch the manned spacecraft into space. Soon after, it separated from the rocket, which will orbit for about a week before falling to Earth. The station is created to operate for at least 10 years. It has ramped up its space programme with visits to the moon, the launch of an uncrewed probe to Mars and the construction of its own space station.

The ISS is backed by leading countries including the United States, Russia and Japan. Its successor, Tiangong 2, was launched in 2016. In an article published last month, Xi said advancement in science and technology is a means to achieve prosperity and national rejuvenation.

A Long March 5B rocket carrying a module for a Chinese space station lifts off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in Wenchang in southern China's Hainan Province, Thursday, April 29, 2021.

China also said in March it was planning to build a separate lunar space station with Russian Federation. Experiment modules named Wentian and Mengtian, expected to launch in 2022, will host a plethora of experiments in areas including astronomy, space medicine, space life science, biotechnology, microgravity fluid physics, microgravity combustion and space technologies.

It put the first Chinese "taikonaut" in space in 2003 and sent a probe in to Mars orbit earlier this year.

China's program has advanced in a steady, cautious manner, largely avoiding the failures seen in the US and Russian efforts with their astronaut programs, moon and Mars missions when they were locked in intense competition during the heady early days of space flight.

Following in the footsteps of the United States and Russia, China is striving to build a space station circling the planet.

The Tiangong-1 lab was launched in September 2011.

In 2013, the second Chinese woman in space, Wang Yaping, gave a video class from inside the space module to children across the world's most populous country. It was largely banned from the International Space Station due to U.S. objections to the secretive nature of the Chinese program and its close military ties.

October 17, 2016: The Shenzhou-11 carrying two male astronauts was launched and later docked with Tiangong-2.

An artist's impression of China's planned space station. It had major setbacks, including the Chang Zeng 5 or Long March 5 rocket that failed due to an engine problem.

The unmanned Chinese spacecraft returned to earth in December with rocks and soil from the Moon - the first lunar samples collected in four decades. Its first module, Tiangong-1, scorched up after perilous orbit.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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