Tiangong 3 - China's Large Space Station
China successfully launched a rocket carrying the core module of its space station that would be completed in around 2022. A large rocket lifted off from a site on the southern Chinese island of Hainan. The Tianhe module, which is 16.6 meters long and 4.2 meters wide, contains the control functions of the space station that China is planning to build. It will also be a space for astronauts to stay and conduct experiments. China is aiming to be a leading country in space development by 2030.
The core cabin of this launch includes three parts: node cabin, life control cabin and resource cabin, with 3 pairs of ports and 2 berths. The core module is mainly used for the unified control and management of the space station and the life of the astronauts. It has long-term autonomous flight capabilities, can support the long-term residence of astronauts, and supports the development of space medicine and space science experiments. Following the Tianhe core module, the Wentian experimental module and the Mengtian experimental module will be launched to carry out the on-orbit assembly and construction of the basic configuration of the space station. At the same time, it plans to launch 4 Shenzhou manned spacecraft and 4 Tianzhou cargo spacecraft for crew rotation and cargo replenishment.
China’s manned space project will implement 11 launch missions including the space station’s core module, experimental module, manned spacecraft and cargo spacecraft, complete the construction of the space station in orbit, and build a national space laboratory that operates stably in orbit. Achieve the mission objectives of the third step of the "three-step" development strategy of China's manned space project. Launching and operating large space stations and allowing astronauts to shuttle daily between space and the ground are signs of the maturity of manned space technology. At present, the International Space Station, jointly constructed, operated and used by 16 countries including the United States, Russia, Britain, France, and Japan, is the only spacecraft that can be used by astronauts for a long time.
China formulated a "three-step" development strategy for manned spaceflight in 1992. Today, China has completed the first two tasks and successfully developed and launched 6 "Shenzhou" manned spacecraft, 2 "Tiangong" space laboratories and 1 "Tianzhou" cargo spacecraft. It has mastered spacewalking, rendezvous and docking, Key technologies for manned spaceflight, such as on-orbit refueling and mid-term residency, have sent 11 astronauts into space. The construction of the space station focuses on solving the problem of large-scale, long-term manned space applications-now, China's manned spaceflight, which has taken the "third step", is taking a new historic leap.
On April 29, the 22.5-ton Chinese Space Station Tianhe Core Module set off from the Wenchang Space Launch Site and was successfully sent into Earth orbit by the Long March 5B carrier rocket. The entry of China's largest spacecraft into space so far means that the construction of China's space station has entered substantial "construction". For a space station designed with a basic configuration of three compartments, the core module, as the main control compartment of the space station, is not only the management and control center of the space station, but also the main place for astronauts to live.
The Long March 5B launch vehicle is a new type of large launch vehicle developed according to the serialization, modularization, and combination concept. It is also China’s first large-scale launch vehicle with a semi-configuration of the first class and is mainly used in low-Earth orbit. Large-scale spacecraft launches and undertake major space launch tasks such as the cabin section of China's manned space station. Since the space station compartment is much larger than previous spacecraft, researchers have newly developed a large fairing according to the mission requirements of the space station, which can cover the space station compartment and protect its safety during launch.
China announced plans 10 September 2014 to build its first space station by 2022 at an annual Association of Space Explorers (ASE) gathering of astronauts held in Beijing. China originally planned to start operating Tiangong 3 two years earlier in 2020. During the meeting China’s first astronaut and Deputy Chief of China Manned Space Agency Yang Liwei announced the plans that will see the space station completed in less than a decade. Yang said the spacecrafts that will be used at the space station, including the Tiangong 2 space lab, Tianzhou cargo spacecraft, and Changzheng 7 carrier rockets are entering their crucial preparation stages. The in-orbit construction of Tiangong 3 was initially expected to start in 2018 with the launch of the core structures.
The space station is a large and medium-sized manned spacecraft operating in low-Earth orbit. It can allow people to live in space for a long time. It relies on cargo spacecraft to supplement propellants and consumables. It can be extended or changed by astronauts repairing and replacing equipment, with expanded functions, it can be called a settlement in space. The construction of a space station in low-Earth orbit means that it is necessary to master the construction technology and operation management technology of large-scale space facilities, and have strong maintenance, repair and upgrade capabilities. Astronauts out of the cabin and the use of robotic arms are both important means.
On September 22, 2017, China’s first cargo spacecraft, Tianzhou-1, under ground control, gradually descended from an orbit of more than 300 kilometers and approached the earth, and finally entered the atmosphere and burned, successfully completing the 5-month "space express" "mission. The completion of the Tianzhou-1 mission marked the realization of the "second step" of the "three-step" plan for China's manned space project, and also pushed China's manned spaceflight to the gate of the space station era.
The important thing is that the Tianzhou-1 mission successfully broke through and verified key technologies such as space station cargo transportation and propellant replenishment in orbit. Since then, the Tianzhou cargo spacecraft and the Long March 7 launch vehicle formally formed the space station cargo transportation system, which solved the space cargo transportation problem required for the construction and long-term operation of the space station, and provided the basic conditions for the construction of the space station. The cargo spacecraft will transport the astronauts' living supplies, propellants, load equipment and other supplies to the space station, and collect the wastes and domestic garbage discarded by the space station, and then return to the atmosphere with the cargo spacecraft.
China not only successfully launched its Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft for the country's first Tianhe space station core cabin supply mission on 29 May 2021, but also tested and performed an ultra-fast yet smooth automatic docking of the cargo ship with the Tianhe module - within only eight hours after launch. Tianzhou-2, dubbed the "delivery guy" for the space station construction project, conducted a smooth rendezvous and docking with the Tianhe core cabin around eight hours after the lift-off of the Long March-7 Y3 carrier rocket from Wenchang spaceport in South China's Hainan Province.
Tianzhou-2 was originally slated to be launched at around 1:30 am on May 20 for a supply run to the space station's core cabin. However, the launch was scrubbed narrowly in less than two hours ahead of the scheduled launch due to "technical reasons," as the ground command center found a parameter indicating pressure levels returning abnormal data. Space observers saw the postponement as a normal practice in the aerospace industry and said it showed China is not rushing into anything but keeping a steady pace, and is resolute in preventing any potential risks from going to space.
Replenishing propellant in orbit means replenishing fuel, which is an important technology to be used by the space station. Adding propellant to a spacecraft in space orbit is very complicated and a major technology to be verified technically. The Tianzhou-1 mission breakthrough and the mastery of propellant supplementation technology in orbit filled the gaps in China’s aerospace field, achieved a major technological leap in the space propulsion field, and cleared the energy supply for the assembly, construction and long-term operation of China’s space station. obstacle.
Through new technical support, the supply of Chinese astronauts on the space station will be better guaranteed. Previously, the water and oxygen necessary for astronauts' survival were brought directly into space by the spacecraft. In order to allow astronauts to stay in orbit for a longer time, the space station has designed a complete renewable life support system to further improve the level of recycling of water and oxygen, which not only reduces the burden on the space transportation system, reduces costs, but also enables humans to stay in orbit. The survivability of space is further improved.
The Shenzhou-12 crew was expected to be the first of many to reside aboard the Chinese Space Station, and not all occupants are expected to be Chinese. Russia announced that it will fly Soyuz spacecraft and crews to the Chinese station from Vostochny or Kourou, and the European Space Agency has an agreement with the Chinese space agency CNSA as well for its astronauts and research to use the Chinese station.
China has also signed an agreement with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs to allow the Chinese station to host international experiments, and some of these experiments have already been chosen. In the future, this cooperation could extend to hosting astronauts from developing countries without their own program, along with ESA and Russian crewmembers.
ESA astronauts Matthias Maurer and Samantha Cristoforetti have trained with the Chinese program and its taikonauts, as part of preparations for a future cooperative spaceflight. As ESA astronaut Maurer stated, “I am very much looking forward to expanding our cooperation with our Chinese friends into space.”
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