The Long March-5B Y2 rocket, carrying the Tianhe module, blasted off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on the coast of the southern island province of Hainan.
The Tianhe module will act as the management and control hub of the space station Tiangong, meaning Heavenly Palace, with a node that could dock with up to three spacecraft at a time for short stays, or two for long, Bai Linhou, deputy chief designer of the space station at the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) said, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Tianhe has a total length of 16.6 meters, a maximum diameter of 4.2 meters and a take-off mass of 22.5 tonnes, and is the largest spacecraft developed by China.
The space station will be a T shape with the core module at the centre and a lab capsule on each side. Each module will be over 20 tonnes. When the station docks with both manned and cargo spacecraft, its weight could reach nearly 100 tonnes.
The station will operate in the low-Earth orbit at an altitude from 340 km to 450 km. It has a designed lifespan of 10 years, but experts believe it could last more than 15 years with appropriate maintenance and repairs.
“We will learn how to assemble, operate and maintain large spacecraft in orbit, and we aim to build Tiangong into a state-level space lab supporting the long stay of astronauts and large-scale scientific, technological and application experiments,” said Bai.
“The station is also expected to contribute to the peaceful development and utilisation of space resources through international cooperation, as well as to enrich technologies and experience for China’s future explorations into deeper space,” Bai said.
The Chinese space station was expected to be a competitor to the aging International Space Station (ISS) which is a modular space station in low Earth orbit. It is a multinational collaborative project involving five participating space agencies which included NASA, (US), Roscomos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe), and CSA (Canada).
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