At 15:37 on October 31, Beijing time, a Long March 5B rocket carrying the Mengtian lab module was ignited and launched from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in China’s southern island province of Hainan. About eight minutes later, the Mengtian module successfully separated from the rocket and accurately entered its scheduled orbit, and the launch mission was declared a complete success.
The Mengtian lab module is the third module of the China Space Station. It is also last piece before China completes its space station assembly. It is made up of four cabins including a working cabin, payload cabin, airlock cabin and resource cabin, with a take-off weight of about 23 tons. It is mainly intended for carrying out space science and application experiments and participating in the management of space station assembly. The airlock cabin can support the automatic entry and exit of cargo and provide support for scientific experiments inside and outside the cabin.
On September 30, the Wentian module was transpositioned from the forward docking port on Tianhe to the starboard port, making way for the arrival of Mengtian. This is the first time China has completed the in-orbit transposition of a large-scale spacecraft cabin by applying transfer facilities. The crew of Shenzhou-14 astronauts is also ready to welcome the arrival of Mengtian. The addition of the Mengtian experiment module marks the completion of the basic configuration of the China Space Station.
The Chinese space station assembly now in orbit includes the Tianhe core module, Wentian module, Shenzhou-14 manned spacecraft and Tianzhou-4 cargo spacecraft. After the 23-ton Mengtian lab module is in place, the weight of the space station assembly has set a new record again.
The launch mass of the Tianhe core module is 22.5 tons. Two 23-ton experiment modules, together with a Tianzhou-4 cargo spacecraft weighing about 13.5 tons and a Shenzhou-14 manned spacecraft weighing more than 8 tons, will give the whole rig a total mass of about 91 tons, making it China’s largest spacecraft combination in orbit at present.
At the end of this year, China will also launch the Tianzhou-5 cargo spacecraft and Shenzhou-15 manned spacecraft, allowing six astronauts to work on the space station at the same time, and the weight of the space station will reach 100 tons.