Chinese experts have successfully completed the installation of the Changcheng-5B heavy rocket on the launch pad of the Wenchang Cosmodrome. The launch is scheduled for April 29, which will be an important milestone for China’s manned space program. The fact is that the Tianhe module – the basic unit of China’s new orbital station – is on board the carrier.
Tianhe has a mass of 22 tons, a length of 16.6 meters and a diameter of 4.2 meters. The module will be launched into a 370-kilometer orbit with an inclination of 41°. If everything goes well, already in the beginning of May, “Tianzhou” supply ship will be launched to it, which will deliver fuel and supplies. And in June, the station will receive its first crew of three (expedition “Shenzhou-12”). Both spacecraft and their launch vehicles have already been delivered to the Wenchang and Jiuquan cosmodromes and are currently undergoing pre-launch preparation.
Two additional laboratory modules will be docked to Tianhe in the next few years. An autonomous telescope module “Xuntian” equipped with a two-meter high main mirror is also planned to be sent to the station. According to Chinese experts, it will have the same resolution capability as Hubble, but at the same time have 300 times greater field of view. If necessary, the module will be able to approach and dock with the station for maintenance and replacement of scientific instruments.
It is possible that in the future, the orbital outpost of the Celestial Empire may be expanded. The leadership of Chinese space program is considering the possibility of docking to it up to three additional modules. The total period of operation of the complex should be at least 10 years.