Beijing plans to complete the construction of Tiangong by the end of the year.
The third and final module docked with China’s Tiangong station in Earth’s orbit on Tuesday, media reports, citing the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA).
The laboratory module, called Mengtian (which means ‘dreaming of the heavens’), was launched on a Long March 5B rocket from the Wenchang launch site on the island of Hainan on Monday. It reached the Tiangong space station after a journey of around 13 hours, and successfully docked with the core module early Tuesday.
The new module contains equipment for studying microgravity and conducting experiments in fluid physics, materials science, combustion science, and fundamental physics, according to the CMSA.
It also carries what Beijing described as “the world’s first space-based cold atomic clock system.” The device will provide “the most precise time and frequency system in space, which should not lose one second in hundreds of millions of years,” a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Zhang Wei, told AFP.
According to CMSA, three Chinese astronauts (known as taikonauts) who are currently in orbit will soon be joined by three others, with the aim of completing construction of the station by the end of the year.
By making Tiangong fully operational, China will prove that it “is now an equal player in space with the US, Russia and Europe,” Chinese space analyst Chen Lan told AFP. “In terms of scientific and commercial aspects, it is always good to see new players coming… Competition will always speed up innovation.”
China has sent two other modules into orbit over the past two years. The country is building its own space station, as it has been excluded from the International Space Station (ISS) project since 2011, when the US government banned NASA from working with Beijing.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on Tuesday that Beijing looks forward to Tiangong becoming “a space home for the whole of humanity.”
The station will be open to all members states of the UN, Zhao said, adding that scientific projects from 17 countries, including Switzerland, Poland, Germany, and Italy, have already been approved.
Russia has said it is looking to exit the ISS after 2024 and also begin building its own space station. However, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Denis Manturov said last month that Moscow is likely to agree to extend its participation in the ISS project until 2028.
Image credit: Shujianyang, CC BY-SA 4.0