China launched the second of three modules to its permanent space station on Sunday, in one of the final missions required to complete the orbiting outpost by the end of the year.
The 23-tonne Wentian (“Quest for the Heavens”) laboratory module launched from the Wenchang Space Launch Center on the southern island of Hainan at 2:22 p.m. (0622 GMT) on the back of China’s most powerful rocket, the Long March 5B.
When the Wentian separated from the rocket about 10 minutes after launch, space agency staff cheered and applauded from a control room.
CCTV reported shortly after that the launch was a “complete success.”
China began building the space station in April 2021, with the launch of the Tianhe module, the main living quarters, in the first of 11 crewed and uncrewed missions.
The 17.9-metre-long (59-foot-long) Wentian lab module, along with the other lab module yet to be launched — Mengtian — will be where astronauts can conduct scientific experiments (“Dreaming of the Heavens”).
When the station is finished, Wentian will have an airlock cabin that will serve as the main exit-entry point for extravehicular activities.
It will also serve as short-term living quarters for astronauts during crew rotations on the station, with a capacity of only three astronauts.
Mengtian, like Wentian, is scheduled to launch in October and will dock with Tianhe, forming a T-shaped structure.
The completion of the structure, which is approximately one-fifth the mass of the International Space Station (ISS), is a source of pride for ordinary Chinese people and will mark the cap of President Xi Jinping’s ten years as leader of China’s ruling Communist Party.
Chen Dong, Shenzhou-14 mission commander, and teammates Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe are aboard the space stations. They are scheduled to return to Earth in December, when the Shenzhou-15 crew arrives.