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Tuesday, November 29, 2022
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Final Piece of China Space Station Docks


China's Modular Space Station | Image by Axel Monse

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China launched its space station’s third and final module on Monday, a further step in fulfilling the country’s ambitions to expand its scientific research beyond Earth.

Chinese state television broadcast the launch of the nearly 59 feet long, 23-ton module called Mengtian. The module carries a range of experimental equipment, including highly accurate atomic clocks and gear designed to create the coldest conditions, according to a New York Times report.

Mengtian docked with the Tiangong space station 13 hours later. Completing its space station is China’s latest effort to surpass the United States in space exploration and to build a more robust knowledge base for China’s growing scientific community.

China launched its core module, the Tianhe, in 2021. In July, China launched the first of its two science modules, the Wentian, which docked with Tianhe.

Like the first two modules, the new science module, Mengtian, was launched using a Long March 5B rocket.

These launches have prompted criticism from the United States because China has not shown the ability to control where the rocket’s 23-ton core booster stage will hit Earth on re-entry.

After a Long March 5B launch in 2020, the booster re-entered West Africa, causing damage to villages on Ivory Coast. Another Long March 5B was used to launch the space station’s core, and the booster fell into the Indian Ocean near the Maldives. 

The China Manned Space Agency has not issued any statements about guiding the boosters back to earth in a safer manner.

The Long March 5B rocket stage entered orbit and is expected to make an uncontrolled reentry in the next week or so.

According to Chinese state television, the Mengtian module is designed to function in space for ten years. Some of the first experiments will involve testing how seeds grow after exposure to microgravity and space radiation.

The launch of Mengtian was the ninth of 11 missions mapped out for the construction and testing of the Tiangong space station.

Mengtian’s arrival marks the start of the operational phase of the space station. Still expected this year are the launch of a cargo spacecraft and a separate crew launch.

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24 days ago

I liked your detailed report on Chinese Space Station project.