China has completed the assembly of its space station

People watch the launch of the Long March 5B Y4 rocket carrying the Mengtian module, from the Wenchang Launch Center, from the tropical island of Hainan, China, Oct 31, 2022. Image courtesy of China's Xinhua.

The third and final module of China’s Tiangong space station docked there on Tuesday 1er November, after its successful launch on Monday, which should allow it to be fully operational, as part of China’s ambitious program in space.

China’s desire to build a space station has been fueled in part by the American refusal to accept Chinese in the International Space Station (ISS) program, a collaboration between the United States, Russia, Canada, the Europe and Japan.

Baptized Mengtian (“dream of heaven”), the module was launched at 3:27 p.m. (8:27 a.m. Paris time) by a Long March 5B rocket from the tropical island of Hainan, according to state broadcaster CCTV. From a beach near the Wenchang launch center, amateur photographers and space enthusiasts immortalized the event.

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“Heavenly Palace”

“The Mengtian experimental module accurately entered the predefined orbit”a mission official, Deng Hongqin, told television a few minutes later. “I declare that this launch is a total success”said Mr. Deng, surrounded by enthusiastic colleagues in the control room.

About thirteen hours later, in the early hours of Tuesday Chinese time, Mengtian clung to Tiangong, the state-run New China news agency reported, citing the Chinese space agency. Mengtian is the third and final major element of the Tiangong space station (“Heavenly Palace”) T-shaped.

Similar in size to the defunct Russian-Soviet Mir station, this is expected to have a lifespan of at least ten years. It must enable China to maintain a long-term human presence in space. Its assembly required a total of eleven missions.

The last one on Monday made it possible to transport cutting-edge scientific equipment. “The first cold atomic clock” was notably sent into space, welcomed the official new China agency. The device should ultimately allow for more precise time measurement.

Read also: China sends three astronauts to its space station, which will now be permanently manned

Delay made up

Since June, three astronauts, including a woman, have been on the Chinese space station for a mission of about six months. Even if China does not plan international cooperation for its station, Beijing has assured that it is open to foreign collaboration. The Asian giant has been investing billions of euros in its space program for several decades, which has enabled it to make up most of its delay against the Americans and the Russians.

Monday’s launch is ” Very important “underlined to Agence France-presse (AFP) Chen Lan, analyst of the site Go-Taikonauts.com, because he “concludes China’s thirty-year space plan, started in 1992”. “With the completion of its space station, China is now on a level playing field with the United States, Russia and Europe in space, which also gives it significant political influence”he added.

China sent its first astronaut into space in 2003. It then landed a spacecraft on the far side of the Moon in 2019, a world first. In 2020, the country had brought back samples from the Moon and finalized Beidou, its satellite navigation system – a rival to the American GPS. The following year, he landed a small robot on Mars. China plans to put men on the moon by 2030.

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The World with AFP

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