China launched the first module of its new space station Thursday, reports the Chinese state agency Xinhua. The rocket with the so-called ‘Tianhe’ module onboard took off from the South China island province of Hainan.
Tianhe is about 16 meters long and is the first of four modules. The final station should be able to accommodate three ‘taikonauts’, or Chinese astronauts, at the same time. China wants to finish the station by 2022, when it will have a length of 20 meters. This means that the station is five times smaller than the 109 metre long international space station ISS.
The previous two Chinese space stations, Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2, crashed on Earth in 2018 and 2019 respectively. If this new station succeeds, it will remain in orbit at between 340 and 450 kilometers altitude.
The country has been increasingly committed to space travel in recent times. In 2019, China became the first country ever to plant a lander on the far side of the moon. Last February, the country brought a satellite into orbit around Mars, and next month China is going to try to put a lander on the red planet. If this succeeds, China will be the third country ever, after the United States and the Soviet Union, to make a soft landing on Mars.