China continues to take its space science seriously with the launching of its Wentian lab module aboard its largest spacecraft, the Long March-5B Y3 rocket, into orbit on Sunday afternoon.
Carrying the Weitan space lab module, the super-heavy spacecraft commenced on the mission at 2:22 PM, Beijing Time from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch site in south China’s Hainan province.
It took about 8 minutes before the lab module separated from the carrier rocket and entered its preset orbit. China Manned Space Engineering Office or CMSEO which oversees the mission declared it a success.
Over the next couple of hours, the Wentian will dock with the Tianhe core module in orbit which will form the second part of China’s three-module space station.
In a previous mission, the Tianzhou-3 cargo craft undocked from the Tianhe space station on July 17th in order to leave the docking port for the incoming Wentian lab module.
However, the Shenzhou-14 crew which is the current core module will enter the Wentian cabin and will become the first Chinese astronauts to witness the docking of two large space station modules in orbit.
As for the specifications of the space station module, it has a height of about 17.9 meters, a maximum diameter of 4.2 meters, and a takeoff of 23 tonnes all of which makes the Wentian module the largest and heaviest spacecraft China ever developed.
It also included the same astronauts’ living facilities as the Tianhe core module some of which include three sleeping areas, a toilet, and a kitchen. The lab will allow Chinese astronauts to perform scientific experiments in space as it’s mainly designed for space life science research.
The module is equipped with laboratory cabinets for life ecology, biotechnology, and variable gravity science.
There is also a small robotic arm which is half the weight and length of the existing robotic arm on the space station’s core module also aboard the Wentian module.
One of the functions of the robotic arm is to help conduct collaboration in a more effective manner. The robotic arm has a load capacity of about one-eighth of its predecessor, and its end positional accuracy is five times higher than its predecessor.
The small robotic arm will have similar missions to its predecessor, including assisting astronauts during extravehicular activities and carrying out inspections of extravehicular conditions.
By November, China is planning to also launch the final Mengtian lab module of the space station into orbit. This will expand the Chinese space station from its core module into a basic T-shaped three-module structure with the core module Tianhe in the center and two other lab modules, Wentian and Mengtian on each side of it.
The Mengtian space lab module will be used for microgravity science research and will be equipped with multi-disciplinary laboratory cabinets for fluid physics, materials science, combustion science, basic physics, and aerospace technology experiments.
About 100 experiments are planned during the construction phase of the space station, according to Lin Xiqang, deputy director of the CMSEO during a press conference before the launch of the Shenzhou-14 crewed mission back in June.
During the briefing, he said the large-scale scientific research will be carried out after the operation is normalized. The research is expected to effectively promote breakthroughs in major frontier scientific fields including dark matter and dark energy, galaxy formation and evolution, the law of nature, and the sustainable development of planet Earth.