China successfully launched the first module of its Tiangong-3 space station

By 2022, the ISS will no longer be the only space station orbiting the Earth. Indeed, Thursday morning, China successfully placed the main Tianhe module of its future space station in orbit. The latter, called Tiangong-3, must be fully operational by next year, in order to welcome the first astronauts and start conducting the first scientific experiments.

For more than two decades, the International Space Station has circled the Earth, welcoming more than 200 astronauts from 19 different countries. But its role as a unique location for continued human presence in space, scientific research, and a proving ground for future space exploration is coming to an end, potentially signaling the end of an unprecedented era of cooperation. international in space.

China, whose astronauts have long been excluded from the ISS, successfully launched the first module of its space station Thursday morning from the Wenchang launch site on the southern island of Hainan, according to China’s National Space Administration. . The base module, currently the largest spacecraft developed by China, was launched into low Earth orbit by a Long March-5B rocket, marking the first step in China’s efforts to build its own station in two years.

Russia has also said it will exit the ISS project in 2025 and plan to build its own space station which could be launched in 2030 – if Russian President Vladimir Putin gives the green light. Of course, the Chinese space station will not launch in one complete piece; it will be assembled from several modules launched at different times.

A space station operational by 2022

Chinese state media reports that the country’s space station will be fully operational by the end of 2022. The central module has a total length of 16.6 meters, a maximum diameter of 4.2 meters and a living area of ​​50 cubic meters, according to China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).

The Tiangong-3 space station as it is due to be in 2022 when fully assembled. © CASC

It should operate for 10 years, extendable up to 15 years. Eleven launches, including four crewed missions and four cargo missions, are planned over the next two years. The first manned mission is expected to launch in June this year – sending three astronauts into orbit for about three months, during which the life support system and maintenance will be tested.

It won’t be as big as the ISS – about a fifth its size and similar to the Russian Mir space station, which operated from 1986 to 2001, but the intention is that it can be permanently occupied by astronauts. long-term. ” We did not intend to compete with the ISS in terms of scale », Says Gu Yidong, chief scientist of the program China Manned Space.

A place for scientific experiments

China launched its first manned space flight in 2003 – more than 40 years after NASA. But as the nation has grown richer and more powerful in recent decades, its space program has accelerated. The Chinese space station – the central module is known as Tianhe, which means the harmony of the skies – will allocate space and resources for a number of international microgravity experiments.

So far, six projects have been accepted, including one on the impact of spaceflight on cancerous tumors led by researchers from Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium and France. ” China wants to demonstrate to the world and its people that it is a world-class player in human spaceflight and advanced science Says David Burbach, professor of national security affairs at theUS Naval War College.

Video showing the launching of the Tianhe module:

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