China prepares for July 24 launch of second space station module

Hausjärvi, FINLAND — China is gearing as much as ship a second module to its under-construction area station with a launch from the coastal Wenchang spaceport later this month.

A Lengthy March 5B heavy-lift rocket will launch the roughly 22-ton Wentian experiment module round 02:20 a.m. ET (0620 UTC) July 24, in keeping with not too long ago introduced space clearance notices in keeping with such a launch.

The 53.7-meter-long, 837.5 metric ton rocket shall be rolled out to the pad at Wenchang within the coming days.

Wentian is anticipated to rendezvous and be part of Tianhe, the similarly-sized core module for the Tiangong area station which launched in April 2021. Tianhe made orbital changes earlier this month to organize for the arrival of Wentian.

The brand new module has a size of 17.9 meters and a most diameter of 4.2 meters. It options crew quarters and an airlock cabin which can turn into the primary exit-entry level for extravehicular actions (EVAs) as soon as energetic, changing the function now performed by the Tianhe docking hub.

The brand new crew services will permit China to carry out a primary crew handover. This can happen when the present Shenzhou-14 crew greet three new astronauts on account of fly aboard Shenzhou-15 in December. Tiangong will then host six astronauts for a interval of days.

Its important function is internet hosting experiment racks for science experiments, whereas additionally offering backups to the life assist and management capabilities of Tianhe. Wentian carries a five-meter-long robotic arm, supplemental to the 10-meter-long Tianhe arm. The 2 arms may also be part of collectively.

Wentian may even include 30-meter-long photo voltaic arrays, boosting the facility out there to Tiangong. Wentian will host a brand new spherical of reside science lectures, following on from these offered by the Shenzhou-13 crew aboard Tianhe.

“Wentian is a important stage within the constructing of China’s area station,” says Brian Harvey, writer of China in Area: The Nice Leap Ahead. “The Tianhe crew has overseen quite a few undockings and redockings, so such maneuvers are nicely practiced, however nothing may be taken with no consideration, particularly for the primary time.”

The Shenzhou-14 astronauts aboard Tianhe have been present process a coaching program together with rendezvous and docking operations and utilizing Tianhe’s mechanical arm in preparation for the arrival of Wentian.

Tianzhou-2, a cargo craft initially charged to ship provides to Tianhe for the primary crew, Shenzhou-12, was used early this 12 months for a transposition take a look at to confirm procedures for shifting a module from the ahead docking port and in the direction of a lateral port.

Tianhe has up to now been visited by three separate three-person crews. The newest, Shenzhou-14, arrived on June 5 and can oversee the arrival of Wentian and Mengtian, one other 22-ton experiment module scheduled for launch in October.

The arrival of the latter will full the deliberate T-shaped Tiangong area station, although China has recommended it may later develop the advanced to 6 modules.

“The true work of the station, which we will anticipate to fly into the 2040s, will start,” Harvey says, as soon as Mengtian is docked in place. 

The Chinese language area station was first envisioned in 1992 with the approval of Challenge 921 which known as for the event of human spaceflight capabilities. The venture suffered delays on account of points with growth and efficiency of the Lengthy March 5B, however is also expanded to 6 modules and most industrial and vacationer missions.

The nation additionally plans to launch a co-orbiting optical telescope module, named Xuntian, in late 2023. Will probably be able to docking with Tianhe for repairs, upkeep, refueling and upgrades, and goals to survey 40 % of the sky throughout a decade. 

Xuntian includes a two-meter-diameter aperture and a discipline of view greater than 300 occasions larger than the 32-year-old Hubble Area Telescope. NASA plans a brand new survey mission, the Nancy Grace Roman Area Telescope, round 2027.

Wentian fallout?

The 2 earlier Lengthy March 5B launches, which carried a take a look at new era crew spacecraft prototype and the Tianhe module respectively, notably noticed the massive first stage of the rocket enter orbit and make uncontrolled reentries.

Consideration shall be on whether or not or not the launch profile has been altered or deorbiting capabilities, similar to restarting engines, have been added. If not, the mission may see one other uncontrolled reentry happen. Exceptionally, the Lengthy March 5B features a core stage and boosters. 

Normally smaller second or additional phases do the ultimate work to hold a spacecraft into orbit, with the bigger first stage reducing off earlier than reaching orbital velocity and falling inside a calculated, protected space.

Chinese language overseas ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin acknowledged final 12 months that it was “frequent observe internationally for higher phases of rockets to dissipate whereas reentering the environment.” On this case, the massive first stage can be the higher stage.

Whereas such an occasion would contain significantly massive and big spacecraft, the standalone risk of the spent rocket stage inflicting harm or hurt shall be very low. A lot of the stage will dissipate within the environment and is more likely to land within the oceans or uninhabited areas.

There’s nevertheless a bigger cumulative threat, in keeping with teachers, from uncontrolled reentries stemming from area launch actions. 

Space clearance notices present drop zones for the boosters and payload fairings for the upcoming Wentian launch, however no indication of a zone for the primary stage.

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