Long March-5B-Y2 carrier rocket taking-off from China’s Wenchang spaceport
China has successfully sent the first section of its own space station – the Tianhe core module cabin – into preset orbit via a Long March-5B Y2 carrier rocket from Wenchang spaceport in South China’s Hainan Province on Thursday, kicking off an intense construction phase of the project.
Encased in the extra-large fairing of the country’s state-of-the-art Long March-5B launch vehicle, the 16.6-meter-long, 4.2-meter-diameter Tianhe (literally meaning Harmony in Heaven) core module, rose from the tropical island province of Hainan at 11:23 am on Thursday morning. After a flight time of around one hour, the solar panels onboard the spacecraft smoothly unfolded and functioned normally, marking the mission’s complete success, according to the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA.)
Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday offered his congratulations regarding the successful launch of the core module of China’s space station, noting that the mission’s success marks the entry of China’s space station construction into the full implementation stage, which lays a solid foundation for follow-up tasks.
Xi said in his congratulatory message, “I hope you will vigorously carry forward both the spirit of ‘Two Bombs and One Satellite’ and the spirit of manned spaceflight, be self-dependent and innovative to achieve victory in space station construction, and contribute to building a modern socialist country!”
The 22-ton Tianhe module will serve as the management and control centre for China’s future space station while hosting three astronauts for long-term in-orbit missions, the Global Times learned from the space station program contractor, the state-owned aerospace giant China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).
The Tianhe module, the largest, heaviest and most complicated spacecraft that China has developed to date, will provide astronauts a living and working space of approximately 50 cubic meters. This space will increase to some 110 cubic meters once the other two experiment modules are in place, CASC said.
As China officially starts implementing construction of its own space station on Thursday, space analysts said they believe that the country has earned its last piece of the big ticket to join the space power club, as it has conquered the every threshold to be counted among the calibre.
There is no doubt that China has become one of the very few countries in the world that have successfully retrieved lunar samples, and managed to send a robotic probe into Mars’ orbit, the rover, of which is also expected to land on the Red Planet soon, and at the same time mastered almost every key technology for manned space flight, said Wang Ya’nan, chief editor of Aerospace Knowledge magazine.
Wang stressed that China has proceeded in a more pragmatic and measured fashion than both the US and the Soviet Union in their space race during the Cold War.
Dubbed the go-to rocket type for the space station module launch missions, the 53.66-meter-long Long March-5B, a shorter variant of Long March-5, has the largest 5.2-meter-diameter fairing of 20.5 meters in height, equivalent to a six-floor building, according to the rocket developer the China’s Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) under the CASC.
Compared to the Long March-5 type, which is more suitable for deep space exploration tasks including the lunar and Mars missions, Long March-5B excels in its launch capability to the low Earth orbit, developers at the CALT told the Global Times.
As the first runner of this relay-like mission, Long March-5B successfully delivered the core module launch section to the set orbit that is some 120- to 600-kilometers in low Earth orbit, they said.