China launches science laboratory into space
The Wentian laboratory module has been successfully added to China's orbiting space station, becoming the largest single-module spacecraft currently in space.
Last night, the Wentian lab module was launched from the Wenchang space base in the tropical island province of Hainan on Sunday, with a view to expanding China's positioning within the space research sector.
The module docked successfully with the Tiangong station’s main Tianhe living module at 3.13am on Monday (8.13pm on Sunday BST), after 13 hours of flight, according to the China Manned Space Agency.
The Wentian is the heaviest single-module spacecraft currently in space, according to the state-owned Global Times. Its name means 'Quest for the Heavens'.
The 23-tonne lab has been designed for science and biology experiments and is only one of the two modules that will form the final laboratory. The second module, known as the Mengtian ('Dreaming of the Heavens'), is due to be launched in October.
The lab module was launched in China's most powerful rocket, the Long March 5B-Y3, and preceded by the Tianzhou-class cargo spacecraft and the Shenzhou-14 crewed spacecraft. It was then welcomed by the three astronauts currently living in the core module, who were responsible for overseeing the docking procedures.
Once completed, the space station will be roughly one-fifth the mass of the International Space Station (ISS) and is intended to reside in low-Earth orbit for use in scientific experiments.
After the US excluded China from the International Space Station (ISS), the country embarked on a mission to create its own orbiting space station.
The first astronaut in the Tiangong programme was launched into orbit in 2003, making China only the third country to do so on its own after the former Soviet Union and the US. Since then, the country has placed rovers on Mars and the Moon, being able to obtain samples and identify and find evidence of water on the Earth's satellite.
With Nasa considering a 2031 retirement for the ISS, which is backed mainly by the United States, Russia, Japan, Europe and Canada, Tiangong could soon become the only functional space station in orbit around the Earth
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