A key module has been launched by China for a new permanent space station. It is the latest ambitious space program by Beijing.
This is called the Tianhe module that contains living quarters for the crew members. It has been launched from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre on a Long March-5B rocket.
China is hoping that the new station is going to be operational by 2022.
Currently, this is the only International Space Station in orbit, from which China has been included.
China has been quite a late starter when it comes to exploration in space. It is only in 2003 that the country has sent its first astronaut into orbit. It is only the third country to do so and it is just after the US and the Soviet Union.
As of now, China has sent two previous stations into orbit. Both, the Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2 have been trial stations. These are simple modules that have allowed only relatively short stays by the astronauts.
The new, multi-module Tiangong station has been set operational for at least 10 days. Tianhe happens to be the core competence of it. It is 4.2 m wide and 16.6 m long. It is going to provide propulsion and power and will contain living quarters and life support technologies that are required by the visiting astronauts.
Beijing has got plans to have at least 10 identical launches that are going to carry all the additional equipment to orbit. This will happen before the completion of the station next year. It is going to orbit the earth at an altitude of 340 to 450 km.
ISS is the only current space station in orbit. ISS is created with a collaboration between the US, Russia, Europe, Canada, and Japan. China was blocked to participate in the collaboration.
After 2024, the ISS is due to be retired and it is going to potentially leave Tiangong as the only space station in the orbit of the earth.
The space program by China has become a regular feature in the propaganda videos of the country.
China has caught up with other countries very quickly and it has got bold ambitions beyond the realm of earth.
They have been frozen out of the International Space Station program by the USA but Beijing has decided to build on its own.
The Tiangong station is up and running and possibly by next year it will have a quarter of the size of an international facility. This is the only country that is going to have its orbiting space lab.
Talks have been going on regarding a lunar station with Russia and missions to Mars.
A comparison is made with the Cold War space race and legitimate scientific ambitions are mixed with international mistrust. This is a potential militarization of the space and key projects have been hailed as the latest benchmarks to justify the huge amount of money that is spent.