China launched an unmanned module containing what will become living quarters for three crew on a permanent space station that it plans to complete by the end of 2022.
The module, named “Tianhe”, or “Harmony of the Heavens”, was launched on the Long March 5B, China’s largest carrier rocket from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre on the southern island of Hainan.
- Tianhe is one of three main components of what would be China’s first self-developed space station, rivalling the only other station in service – the International Space Station (ISS).
- The ISS is backed by the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada. China was barred from participating by the United States.
- Tianhe is an important pilot project in the building of a powerful nation in both technology and in space.
- Tianhe forms the main living quarters for three crew members in the Chinese space station, which will have a life span of at least 10 years.
- The Tianhe launch was the first of 11 missions needed to complete the space station, which will orbit Earth at an altitude of 340 to 450 km (211-280 miles).
- In the later missions, China will launch the two other core modules, four manned spacecraft and four cargo spacecraft.
- Work on the space station programme began a decade ago with the launch of a space lab Tiangong-1 in 2011, and later, Tiangong-2 in 2016.
- China has prioritized space exploration in recent years, with the aim of becoming a major space power by 2030. By 2045, it hopes to establish a programme operating thousands of space flights a year and carrying tens of thousands of tonnes of cargo and passengers.
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