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China launches second of 3 space modules for new space station; ventian

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Hundreds of people gathered on the surrounding beaches to take pictures of the launcher.

Beijing:

China on Sunday launched the second of three modules needed to complete its new space station, state media reported, the latest step in Beijing’s ambitious space program.

The uncrewed craft, named Wentian, was launched by a Long March 5B rocket at 2:22 pm (0622 GMT) from the Wenchang Launch Center on Hainan, China’s tropical island.

A quarter-hour later, an official from the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) confirmed the “success” of the launch.

Hundreds of people gathered on nearby beaches to take pictures of the launcher rising into the air in a plume of white smoke.

After a flight of approximately eight minutes, “the Ventian Lab module successfully detached from the rocket and entered its intended orbit, making the launch a complete success,” CMSA said.

Beijing launched the central module of its space station Tiangong – meaning “heavenly palace” – in April 2021.

About 18 meters (60 ft) long and weighing 22 tons (48,500 lb), the new module has three sleeping fields and space for scientific experiments.

It will dock with existing modules in space, a challenging operation that experts have said will require multiple high-precision manipulations and the use of a robotic arm.

“This is the first time China has docked such large vehicles together, which is a delicate operation,” said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

He said that by the time the next module arrives, the space station will have a “rather unusual L-shape” that will take a lot of power to keep stable.

“These are all technical challenges that the USSR put forward with the Mir station in the late 1980s, but this is new to China,” he told AFP.

“But it will result in a more capable station with the space and power to conduct more scientific experiments.”

The Ventian will also serve as a backup platform to control the space station in the event of a failure.

The third and final module is scheduled to dock in October, and Tiangong – which must be at least 10 years old – is expected to be fully operational by the end of the year.

– Fast paced space planning –

Under the leadership of Chinese President Xi Jinping, plans for the country’s widely publicized “space dream” have been put into motion.

China has made great strides in catching up with the United States and Russia, where astronauts and cosmonauts have decades of experience in space exploration.

“The CSS (Chinese space station) will complete its construction in a year and a half, the fastest in history for any modular space station,” said Chen Lan, analyst at the Go-Taikonauts.com site. Specializes in China’s space program.

“In comparison, the construction of Mir and the International Space Station took 10 and 12 years, respectively.”

China’s space program has already landed a rover on Mars and sent a probe to the Moon.

Apart from a space station, Beijing also plans to build a base on the Moon and send humans there by 2030.

China has been kept out of the International Space Station since 2011, when the United States banned NASA from engaging with the country.

While China does not plan to use its space station for global cooperation on the scale of the ISS, Beijing has said it is open to foreign collaboration.

(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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