If, since the end of the Mir station, the question of stations in orbit had only one answer: the ISS (the international space station). But now China is coming this morning to reshuffle the cards by sending the first of four permanent modules of its own space station.
China successfully launched a Long March (CZ) 5B from its base in Wenchang this morning. Tianhe-1, the first module of his brand new space station, is on board. If the country was already shining with its unmanned flights, including the Chang’e lunar missions, including the last one, Chang’e 5, who had managed the feat of making a lightning-fast round trip between the earth and the moon, and those who demonstrated that it still doubted the power of CNSA, the Chinese space agency.
Far from being utopian like these colleagues (or enemies, depending on your point of view) at NASA, the Chinese agency remains very ambitious. Unless it is aiming for the moon like Uncle Sam by 2024, it will keep its sights on our satellite and intends to send men (and certainly women) there by the end of the decade. In this accelerated development, Beijing is playing at multiple tables and all funds are being made available to the Chinese agency to carry out its mission.
As explained above, the Chang’e missions ensured the reliability of the flights to the moon. The probes that left in the direction of our satellite were able to return valuable samples when the latter was recaptured. It has therefore been reported that a landing near the South Pole could be of great benefit to astronauts, as this area is best suited for protecting water.
Human development on the edge of the ISS
As the technical barriers fell one after the other before the capabilities of the CNSA, the Chinese agency now had to train the men and women who will take part in this nearly half a million kilometer round trip from Wenchang to the moon.
Faced with this new difficulty, the CNSA decided to take the bull by the horns and build its own space station. A project that may seem crazy when we know that seven fully cooperating countries have had a hard time building the ISS, but China is decided and the Middle Kingdom will have its station.
So this morning was Day 1 of this great project that has occupied part of the CNSA for many years. A Long March 5B missile placed on the Wenchang base has just sent the first module of this 100% Chinese station into space. Tianhe, which means heavenly harmony in Mandarin, entered orbit today. A first crew should arrive at the new Chinese station on June 10th.
A ten year old project
But the new station that China has built over our heads is not a 100% premiere. In fact, China had already sent two prototype space stations into space in 2011 and 2016, Tiangong 1 and 2. These two unique modules had been manned by multiple crews. In particular, they had greeted the first female Chinese astronaut. Tiangong 1, the CNSA’s first experimental station, was taken out of orbit in 2018, causing a lot of ink to flow at the time.
Starting this morning, Tianhe arrived in low earth orbit. China is therefore setting up its own station for this occasion. It is expected that it will fly ten years earlier, that it will also be desorbed, and that it will be consumed in the layers of our atmosphere. Until then, many Chinese astronauts and perhaps foreigners – the CNSA has not fully closed the door to cooperation – will be able to see the earth from above.
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