China said on Thursday that it had launched the first of three units for its space station, a project that would allow Beijing to have astronauts permanently in space.
The unit was powered by a Long March 5B missile from the Wenchang Launch Center on the tropical island of Hainan (south), according to a public CCTV broadcast.
A Chinese rocket takes over the central unit of the space station – Photo: AFP
The China Space Station (CSS) will take more than a year to assemble and will be carried out in about ten successive missions – including four manned missions. It should be up and running by 2022.
It will operate in low Earth orbit – at an altitude of between 340 and 450 km – and will be identical to the old Russian “Mir” station (1986-2001). Its useful life is between 10 and 15 years.
The weight is estimated at more than 90 tons, three times less than the International Space Station (ISS).
Measuring 16.6 meters in length and 4.2 meters in diameter, the Tianhe unit, which will form the central part of CSS, will be where the astronauts and the station’s control center will live.
A Chinese missile takes over the central unit of the Tianhe Space Station – Photo: AFP
CSS, whose Chinese name is Tiangong (“Heavenly Palace”), will coexist in Earth orbit with the International Space Station, which is expected to remain operational for a few more years.
The Chinese broadcaster has no profession to become a place for international cooperation like the International Space Station, but China has announced that it is open to cooperation with the outside.
For decades, China has invested billions in its space program to reach Europeans, Russians and Americans.
The Asian giant sent its first astronaut into space in 2003.
A Chinese spacecraft landed on the other side of the moon in 2019, which is a global innovation. Last year he brought samples.
Beijing plans to place a small, wheeled robot on Mars in May. In addition, the Chinese space agency announced its intention to build a lunar base with Russia.