China launches core module of space station on Long March 5-B rocket

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April 29 (UPI) — China successfully launched the core module of its first domestically developed space station, the Tianhe, prompting Xi Jinping to issue a message of congratulations.

The China Manned Space Engineering Office launched the main module of the space station at 11:22 a.m., local time, Thursday, from Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on China’s Hainan Island, state television network CGTN reported.

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The Tianhe, which measures 4.2 meters in diameter and 16.6 meters in length, was transported into space by the Long March-5B carrier rocket. The space station is to operate as part of China’s first low-Earth orbital space station, the Tiangong, which means “heavenly palace.”

The core module separated from the rocket after 490 seconds of flight. Tianhe is to rise to an orbit of 370 kilometers or 230 miles above Earth, according to Space News Thursday.

Zhou Jianping, chief architect of the manned space program, said the station is to form a T-shape structure when complete, according to CGTN. Tianhe will be at the center, and two lab capsules, Wentian and Mengtian, are to flank the Tianhe, which will include three docking ports.

The space station is expected to be complete after 11 successful launches from 2021 to 2022. The 11 launches that include Thursday’s launch, will also need to send two more modules into space, conduct four manned missions and four cargo vessel flights.

Tianzhou cargo vessels and Shenzhou manned spaceships will be launched later this year. The unmanned Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft is to dock at Tianhe in May. The docking is to be followed by the visit of three astronauts on the Shenzhou-12 spaceship in June, according to Space News.

Xi hailed the mission on Thursday as a success. Xi also was referred to as “chief commander” of China’s manned space program in state media.

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