China has been developing some ambitious space goals supported by elaborate processes and a sizable budget. Robotic lunar bases, nuclear-powered spacecraft, and reusable space plans are all in the works. Later this month, a deployment from the coastal Wenchang spaceport will deliver a second module to China’s growing space station. China sees the current space race as an opportunity to gain significant prestige.
As per the newly released area clearance notices corresponding with such a launch, the approximately 22-ton Wentian experiment module will be launched by a Long March 5B heavy-lift rocket on 24th July at 02:20 a.m. ET (0620 UTC). In the upcoming days, the Wenchang launch pad will receive the 53.7-meter-long, 837.5-metric-ton rocket.
Wentian is anticipated to meet up with Tianhe, the Tiangong space station’s main module, which debuted in April 2021 and is a similar size. To be ready for Wentian’s arrival, Tianhe conducted orbital modifications early this month.
The new module may expand to a peak diameter of 4.2 meters and 17.9 meters in length. It has an airlock cabin and crew quarters, which, once operational, will take the place of the Tianhe docking hub as the primary exit-entry point for EVAs (extravehicular activities).
A first crew handover can be accomplished by China thanks to the improved crew facilities. This will happen when the crew of Shenzhou-14 welcomes 3 new astronauts who will launch on Shenzhou-15 in December. Six astronauts will then stay in Tiangong for a few days. Its primary duty is to house racks for experiments of science while also acting as a backup for life support as well as control systems of Tianhe. In addition to the Tianhe arm, which is 10-meter-long, Wentian also has a robotic arm that is five meters long. Also possible is a fusion of the two arms.
Additionally, Wentian will include solar panels that are 30 meters long, increasing the power that Tiangong has access to. Following the lectures given by the Shenzhou-13 staff aboard Tianhe, Wentian will hold another live science lectures round.
According to Brian Harvey, who is the author of China in Space: The Great Leap Forward, “Wentian represents a vital milestone in the creation of China’s space station. Although the Tianhe crew has managed several undockings and redockings, nothing should be taken for granted, especially when doing so for the first time.”
In anticipation of the arrival of Wentian, 14 astronauts have been training on Tianhe in activities like rendezvous and docking procedures as well as operating the mechanical arm. Early this year, a transposition test was conducted using Tianzhou-2, a cargo ship originally tasked with bringing supplies to Tianhe for Shenzhou-12, the first crew, to ensure that the correct procedures were followed while shifting a module that is from the forward docking port to a lateral port.
Three distinct three-person crews have thus far visited Tianhe. Wentian and Mengtian, two 22-ton experiment modules set for launch in October, will be delivered under the supervision of the latest, Shenzhou-14, which arrived on June 5. Though China has indicated it may eventually grow the complex to 6 modules, the latter’s arrival will complete the intended T-shaped Tiangong space station.