The third largest experimental module is being launched to the Chinese space station, which is named “Mengtian”. After the launch, docking, and transfer of the Mengtian experimental module, the basic in-orbit T-shaped configuration of the Chinese space station will be completed. How was the Chinese space station built and assembled step by step?
On May 5, 2020, China’s Long March 5B carrier rocket, which was specially developed for China‘s manned space station project, was launched from China’s Wenchang Center. The first flight of the Chinese carrier rocket “Long March-5B” succeeded, marking the beginning of the mission to build the orbit of the Chinese space station in orbit.
On the morning of April 29, 2021, at Wenchang Center in China, the carrier rocket “Long March 5 B Yao 2” was successfully launched with the first unit of the Tianhe station or core unit into space. With a take-off weight of 22.5 tons, it was the largest and most complex spacecraft that China had independently developed.
On May 29, 2021, the Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft loaded 6.9 tons of space materials, adopted the independent and fast docking and docking method, and successfully docked with the aft docking port of the Tianhe base unit after launch.
On June 17, 2021, the Shenzhou 12 manned spacecraft successfully docked with the forward docking port of the Tianhe core module in a rapid manner. The Shenzhou 12 crew of astronauts, Ni Haisheng, Liu Beoming, and Tang Hongbo, entered the Chinese space station for the first time.
On October 16, 2021, the Chinese manned Shenzhou 13 spacecraft successfully docked with the radial docking port of the “Tianhe” core module, forming a group of four cabins with the space station. The astronauts of the Shenzhou 13 mission, Zhai Zhigang, Wang Yaping, and Ye Guangfu, also began their 6-month space life and set a record for the length of time Chinese astronauts stayed in orbit.
On April 16, 2022, after completing two extravehicular activities, two “from space” lectures, and a series of science and technology experiments and other missions, the Shenzhou 13 manned spacecraft using “quick return” technology returned to Earth at the Dongfeng landing site. And all the tasks set for the main technological verification phase of the Chinese space station have been completed.
On May 10, 2022, the Long March 7 Yao 5 carrier rocket carrying the Shenzhou 4 cargo spacecraft was successfully launched at the Wenchang Station launch site. This marked the first launch mission in which China’s space station construction transitioned from a major technology verification phase to an in-orbit construction phase.
On June 5, 2022, the space station received three astronauts from the Shenzhou 14 mission, namely Chen Dong, Liu Yang, and Kai Xuzhi.
On July 24, 2022, the second “Wentian Experimental Module” of the Chinese space station was successfully launched. The Wentian unit is the first scientific experimental unit of the Chinese space station, and it consists of a work unit, an airlock, and a resource unit. It has a take-off weight of about 23 tons, and it has the ability to fly independently for a short period of time. It mainly helps support astronauts’ accommodation, exit activities, and space science and space application experiments. At the same time, it can be used as a backup for the Tianhe base unit, and the space station can be managed and controlled. The three astronauts not only transported some exercise equipment to the Wentian Experimental Unit, but also conducted a series of space experiments, space lectures, and other activities.
On September 30, 2022, after about an hour of coordination between the space station and the China Manned Space Agency, the Wentian experimental module completed its transfer. And the shape of the space station was changed from a “single line” shape with two units to an “L” shape with two units. This was the first time in China that the indexing mechanism was used to carry out the indexing process for high-volume modules in orbit.
After the completion of the transfer of the Wentian experimental module, the experimental module of the Mengtian space station will be launched, and the three modules will form the basic “T” configuration of the Chinese space station.
Later, the Shenzhou-15 manned spacecraft will be launched, where six astronauts will gather at the Chinese space station. Let us look forward to this historic moment when a group of Chinese astronauts will gather in orbit.