The second module of the future Chinese space station has been successfully launched –

China launched the second of three space station modules under construction on Sunday, according to images broadcast live by state broadcaster CCTV. This is an important step towards completing the installation.

The device, called Wentian, weighing about 20 tons without an astronaut on board, was launched on Sunday at 14:22 (8:22 Swiss time) by a Chinese CZ-5B rocket from the Wenchang Cosmodrome on the tropical island of Hainan.

About eight minutes into the flight, “Wentian successfully separated from the rocket and entered its planned orbit,” the manned space agency (CMSA) cheered, calling the launch “an overall success.”

Hundreds of enthusiasts gathered on nearby beaches to photograph the launcher rising into the air in a plume of white smoke.

>> CZ-5B rocket launch images:

A delicate and unprecedented operation for China

Nearly 18 meters long and 4.2 meters in diameter, with three berths, toilets and a kitchen, Wentian will serve as a backup platform to control the station in the event of a failure. The module also contains rooms for scientific experiments and an airlock that will become the preferred passageway for spacewalks.

This laboratory module is to dock with Tianhe, the station’s first module, which has already been in orbit since April 2021. The operation will be challenging for the crew of three astronauts on the Shenzhou 14 mission, as it requires multiple successive altitudes. – precise manipulations, in particular with a robotic arm.

>> Read: China launched the first module of its future space station

However, for the first time, China had to dock such large modules in orbit. This manipulation will have to be repeated with the launch in October 2022 of the third and final laboratory module (Mengtian).

“Heavenly Palace” in the World line

The Chinese space station, named Tiangong (Sky Palace) in Chinese but also known by its acronym CSS (for Chinese Space Station), is due to be fully operational by the end of the year.

In its final T-shape, it will be similar in size to the former Soviet Mir station. Its service life should be at least 10 years, or even 15 years.

The completion of Tiangong will also allow China to carry out an in-orbit crew relay for the first time. This should happen in December, when the Shenzhou 14 astronauts currently on the space station will make way for the Shenzhou 15 astronauts.

>> Read also on this topic: China’s longest manned space mission begins

speed record

China pushed to build its own station because of the US refusal to allow it to participate in the ISS. If everything goes according to plan, construction will be completed in just a year and a half. “The fastest pace in history for a modular space station,” said Chen Lang, an analyst at a site that specializes in the Chinese space program. Go taikonauts!.

“For comparison, the construction of Mir and the International Space Station (ISS) took 10 and 12 years, respectively,” he adds.

>> Watch live on YouTube In French from the Chinese channel CGTN, owned by the state television CCTV: