By K J M Varma :
CHINA’S ambitious space programme got a major boost on Thursday when it successfully launched the core module of its space station as part of its aim to complete the construction of the facility 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. Encased in the extra-large fairing of the country’s state-of-the-art Long March-5B launch vehicle, Tianhe meaning Harmony in Heaven reached the designated orbit after a flight of around one hour, state-run Global Times reported.
Chinese President Xi Jinping congratulated the successful launch of the core module of China’s space station. Xi, in his message, said the successful launch of the core module marks that China’s space station construction has entered the full implementation stage, which lays a solid foundation for the follow-up tasks.
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, Bai Linhou, deputy chief designer of the space station at the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) said, state-run Xinhua news agency reported. 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. 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. When the station docks with both manned and cargo spacecraft, its weight could reach nearly 100 tonnes.