(Image credit: CMSA)
China is gearing up to complete its Tiangong space station with a third module launch in less than 18 months.
The Mengtian experiment module arrived at Wenchang spaceport in south China on Tuesday (Aug. 9) after being shipped in containers from the northern port city of Tianjin, China’s human spaceflight agency announced (opens in new tab).
Mengtian (“Dreaming of the Heavens”) will next be assembled and put through testing at Wenchang in preparation for a scheduled launch in October on a Long March 5B rocket.
The 58.7-foot-long (17.9 meters) module will dock in orbit with a connecting hub at the space station and then be moved to a lateral port, joining the Tianhe core module and Wentian experiment module to complete the T-shaped Tiangong space station.
China launched Tianhe (“Harmony of the Heavens”) in April 2021 and last month added the Wentian (“Quest for the Heavens”) experiment module to the orbital complex. Both launches saw high-profile, uncontrolled reentries of the huge first stage of their Long March 5B rockets — something that will likely happen again after the Mengtian launch.
Mengtian will host a number of science cabinets for conducting a wide range of experiments. It also has a payload airlock, allowing the station’s small robotic arm to take science payloads and install them on an experiment platform on the module’s exterior.
The country plans to operate the Tiangong space station for at least a decade and could open up the facility to commercial missions and tourist visits.
The completed Tiangong, with visiting cargo and Shenzhou crewed spacecraft docked, will be around 20% as massive as the International Space Station, which here on Earth would weigh about 460 tons.
Andrew is a freelance space journalist with a focus on reporting on China’s rapidly growing space sector. He began writing for Space.com in 2019 and writes for SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, New Scientist and others. Andrew first caught the space bug when, as a youngster, he saw Voyager images of other worlds in our solar system for the first time. Away from space, Andrew enjoys trail running in the forests of Finland. You can follow him on Twitter @AJ_FI (opens in new tab).