China launches final space station module Mengtian: State media

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China on Monday launched the last of the three modules that will comprise its space station, set to be the second permanently inhabited outpost in low-earth orbit after the NASA-led International Space Station.

The uncrewed Mengtian, or “Dreaming of the Heavens,” module was launched atop China’s most powerful rocket, the Long March 5B, at 3:37 p.m. (0737 GMT) from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in the southern island province of Hainan.

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In April 2021, China began construction of its space station with the launch of the Tianhe module, the main living quarters for astronauts. In July this year it launched Wentian, or “Quest for the Heavens,” a laboratory module where scientific experiments will be performed.

The 23-tonne Mengtian, also a laboratory module, is expected to dock with an axial port at one end of Tianhe later on Monday.

But the space station will only take on its final T-shape - with Tianhe as the core flanked by the two lab modules - when Mengtian is repositioned, while in orbit, to one of Tianhe’s radial ports on its side.

The completion of the Chinese space station, designed for a lifespan of at least 10 years, will be a milestone in China’s ambitions in low-earth orbit, with NASA’s aging ISS potentially ceasing operation by the end of the decade.

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