China launches a 23-ton space station module to orbit aboard a Long March 5B rocket

China's space station is almost complete after the country launched one out of the two modules left.
Chris Young

China's space agency continues to make steady progress as the country aims to become one of the world's leading space powers. 

On Sunday, July 24, it launched one of the two laboratory modules required to complete its orbital space station, a press release reveals.

The Wentian module weighs 23 tons and, according to state-owned Global Times, it is heavier than any other single-module spacecraft currently in orbit.

China launches a new orbital space station module

The Wentian module of the Tiangong space station was launched from Hainan Island, which is at the southernmost point of China. A crowd of space enthusiasts watched on and waved flags throughout the proceedings. 

The module launched aboard a Long March 5B remote 3 rocket, and it took approximately eight minutes to reach orbit.

The new Wentian module was designed for science and biology experiments. The second module, the Mengtian, is scheduled to launch in October. Once the second module is launched to orbit, the Tiangong space station should be completed by around the end of the year.

Both will form a part of China's Tiangong space station, where three astronauts are already stationed aboard the core module. These astronauts will help to position and dock the new module once it arrives at the station.

China's space agency is run by China's ruling Communist Party's military wing, which means that the U.S. did not invite it to collaborate on the International Space Station. Fractured relations between the U.S. and Russia, however, have led to more collaboration between Russia and China. The two are working together on a lunar space station after Russia declined to collaborate on NASA's lunar Gateway program.

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China is becoming a global leader in space

China's space agency, the China National Space Administration (CNSA), has made significant progress in recent years in its bid to become a leading space power. The CNSA provided the first on-site evidence of water from the Moon's surface earlier this year. It also recently announced it is developing a lunar nuclear reactor that it claims will be one hundred times more powerful than a similar model in development by NASA.

China's space program also launch astronauts into space for the first time in 2003, making it the third country to do so with its own space program after the former Soviet Union and the U.S. 

The country's space agency also recently announced it will launch its first large space observatory to orbit near its space station once the space station is completed. The telescope, called Xuntian, or the Chinese Space Station Telescope (CSST) will take large surveys of the sky, and it will reportedly have a field of view 300 times greater than the Hubble Space Telescope. 

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