China Launches Core Module of Space Station Planned for 2022

China’s efforts to increase its presence in space received a boost Thursday with news one core module of its planned space station has gone into orbit.

The Tianhe module will act as the management and control hub of the space station, called Tiangong, or Heavenly Palace, with a node that could dock with up to three spacecraft at a time for short stays, according to a local Xinhua media report. The station will operate in the low-Earth orbit and should have a lifespan of around 10 years.

China Launches Core Module of Space Station Planned for 2022

However, this week’s launch is only an early step for China in building its space station. According to Space.com, the Asian nation will need at least another 10 launches, as well as crewed and cargo missions, to complete assembly by the end of 2022.

Should that timeline be achieved, China would have the second fully operational space station in orbit after the International Space Station, which was built by 15 nations and launched in 1998. Russia, which is part of the ISS, is also planning its own space station and officials have indicated they could pull out of the ISS in 2025.

China President Xi Jinping offered his congratulations on the Tianhe launch, saying building a space station and national space lab are “important goals for realizing the three-step strategy of China’s manned space program.”

Xi said he hoped the launch would blaze new trails and “win the victory of space station construction.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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