China on 29 April 2021 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. The Long March-5B Y2 rocket, carrying the Tianhe module, blasted off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on the coast of the southern island province of Hainan.

What

  1. The Tianhe module will act as the management and control hub of the space station Tiangong, meaning Heavenly Palace, with a node that could dock with up to three spacecraft at a time for short stays, or two for long.
  2. Tianhe has a total length of 16.6 meters, a maximum diameter of 4.2 meters and a take-off mass of 22.5 tonnes, and is the largest spacecraft developed by China.
  3. The space station will be a T shape with the core module at the centre and a lab capsule on each side. Each module will be over 20 tonnes.
  4. The station will operate in low-Earth orbit at an altitude from 340 km to 450 km. It has a designed lifespan of 10 years, but experts believe it could last more than 15 years with appropriate maintenance and repairs.
  5. The Chinese space station was expected to be a competitor to the aging International Space Station (ISS) which is a modular space station in low Earth orbit.
  6. It is a multinational collaborative project involving five participating space agencies which included NASA, (US), Roscomos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe), and CSA (Canada).