China Set to Lift off First Module of Heavenly Harmony Space Station

The core module of China's space station on display. Image China Daily

The core module of China's space station on display. Image China Daily

After the module is launched, astronauts on the Shenzhou XII and XIII missions and two cargo ships will be launched within a few months to prepare the module for docking with other parts of the station.

But its role as the sole venue for a continuous human presence in space, scientific research and a testing ground for future space exploration is coming to a close, potentially signaling an end to an unparalleled era of worldwide cooperation in space.

China on Thursday launched the core module of its space station, kicking off a series of key launch missions that aim to complete the construction of the station by the end of next year.

"Eastern on Wednesday (11:22 a.m. Thursday local time) when a powerful Long March-5B rocket carrying the 60-foot-long Tianhe - Heavenly Harmony" - core module roared to life and blasted off from the Wenchang Launch Center on the southern island of Hainan.

China had expressed interest in joining the International Space Station project but membership was effectively denied by US policy towards China's space programs. The space lab ceased operations in March 2016 and re-entered the Earth's atmosphere in April 2018.

The completed station, weighing little more than 90 tons, will be around a quarter the size of the International Space Station.

Beijing has poured billions into its military-run space program, with hopes of having a crewed space station by 2022 and eventually sending humans to the Moon.

The China National Space Administration has already invited scientists around the world to participate in the mission and four payloads developed by scientists from France, Italy, Sweden, Russia and China have been preliminarily selected.

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Russian Federation is deepening ties with China in space as tensions with Washington rise. It will also be the main living place of the astronauts, where they can also conduct some scientific and technological experiments.

It took more than a decade, but in 1970, China launched its first satellite on a Long March rocket.

Through the years, it has sent its first astronaut into space in its Shenzhou mission in 2003, starting a number of manned space missions that included an astronaut conducting a spacewalk.

The CSS will also be joined in orbit by the Xuntian optical module, a co-orbiting, Hubble-class space telescope. A Long March 2F rocket and Shenzhou spacecraft will also be on standby at all times at Jiuquan to perform emergency rescue missions to the space station, a senior space official stated in March.

October 17, 2016: The Shenzhou-11 carrying two male astronauts was launched and later docked with Tiangong-2.

A screen displays a rendering of the space station at an exhibition at the China Science and Technology Museum in Beijing.

Striking while the iron is hot, speaking at a space conference, held in Nanjing, east China's Jiangsu Province on Saturday, the chief designer of the third stage of China's lunar exploration program, Hu Hao, said the country is aiming to launch its Chang'e 6 probe to the far side of the moon around 2024. One recent setback occurred when the Long March 5 missile failed in 2017 during the development of the Long March 5B variant that would be used to put the Tianhe unit into orbit, but engineers quickly arrived to solve the problem.

It includes a Mars orbiter, a lander and a rover that will study the planet's soil. It's set to land on Mars in the coming weeks.

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