China has launched the third module of its space station

China has launched the Mengtian lab module using a Long March 5B rocket, the last module of their Tiangong space station

Yesterday, on 31 October 2022 at 7:37 UTC, a Long March 5B rocket lifted off from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center. The rocket is the most powerful one China currently has, and it put into orbit the Mengtian laboratory module. It will join Tianhe, the core module, and Wentian, another lab module, to form the Tiangong space station.

The module docked to Tianhe’s forward port at 20:27 UTC of the same day. It will eventually be moved to the port docking port, its final position, by a small robotic arm. At that point, the assembly of the space station will be complete. Later this month the first crew rotation will be launched by the Shenzhou 15 spacecraft, arriving at the station shortly before the crew of Shenzhou 14 leaves. This will be the first time two Chinese crews meet in space, marking a new milestone for their space program. The next year will see the launch of a co-orbital space telescope that will be able to briefly dock to the station.

Tiangong’s current configuration. Mengtian is on the left. Image credit: CMSA

The Long March 5B is China’s heavy-lift rocket. It uses a hydrogen-oxygen core, aided at liftoff by four kerosene liquid boosters. There is no upper stage, so the huge core enters orbit along the payload. Since even at low orbital altitudes there is some very thin atmosphere, the stage will eventually slow down and reenter. No means to control reentry are present, so the debris might crash anywhere between 42° N and 42° S. The probability it hits any given point is abysmally low. This will be the fourth time this occurs, as it already has with the three previous launches of this rocket.

Rewatch the live launch coverage here:


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Riccardo Dipietro

Riccardo Dipietro

Second-year aerospace engineering student at the Polytechnical School of Turin. Creator and admin of gourmet_space_memes on Instagram

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