The Chinese space agency has just launched the first piece of its “heavenly palace”, literal translation of “Tiangong”, the name of the country’s almost three-decade space station development program.
The images of its launch from the island of Hainan were broadcast live, at the end of the morning Chinese time (a little before 5:30 in the morning, French time): the first module of the space station Tiangong 3 joined this April 29 the low orbit of our planet. Baptized Tianhe – which could be translated into French as “harmony of the heavens” – the module in question should see a crew of three taikonauts arrive during the month of June.
16.6 meters long for a diameter of 4.2 meters: the imposing 22-ton cylinder is equipped with a life support system as well as a propulsion necessary to maintain the whole of the future station. in its orbit, located between 350 and 450 kilometers above sea level. It is also equipped with a mooring system which will serve in particular to connect two space laboratories to it in the coming year.
At the end of its assembly, which should be completed by 2022, the Chinese station will also be joined in orbit by the optical module. Xuntian, “A classy space telescope Hubble which will be able to moor at the station for maintenance and repairs ”, as reported in the specialized press.
The first module of the space station has “successfully entered its planned orbit”, the scientific pole of the People’s daily, the official media outlet of the Chinese Communist Party on social media.
The Chinese space agency, the CNSA, has been working since the early 1990s on a manned presence in low orbit. In fact, the station Tiangong 3 succeeds prototypes Tiangong 1 and 2 which, launched in 2011 and 2016, have sailed over our heads for five and three years respectively.
Cooperation and tensions
Overall, the Chinese station is dedicated to hosting multiple experiments conducted by different countries such as Russia, India, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Poland, Belgium, Norway, Peru and Kenya. As on the international space station (the ISS), the projects will touch on various fields, ranging from astronomical observation to the development of space technologies, not to mention the study of earth sciences or even microgravity experiments, essential for anticipate the conditions of future interplanetary manned flights. The Chinese station could also allow the CNSA to advance on its lunar program.
As a reminder, Beijing has never been part of the ISS programs due to several factors, both political and technological.
For its part, China invited in 2016, via the Office for Outer Space Affairs of the United Nations, the member countries of the United Nations to use its future station in accordance with the following principles: “peaceful use of space; equality in the sharing of the results obtained; joint development. ” According to the specialized press, the Chinese space agency had already received, at the end of 2018, some forty proposals from 27 countries.
Echoing the current international tensions, the establishment of a Chinese station in low orbit made Washington react, which intends to maintain its supremacy in the conquest of space. An ambition gradually called into question by the space rise of China, and the cooperation it undertakes, in particular with Russia. The two countries, for example, recently announced the joint construction of a scientific base on the Moon, in parallel with the NASA lunar program called Artemis.