China has once again put another massive rocket stage in orbit, triggering a week-long guessing game as to where and when it will reenter the atmosphere and whether debris will rain down over a populated area.
The object in question is the core stage of a Long March 5B rocket, which entered orbit after launching the new Wentian module to the Chinese space station. The stage is 53.6-meter-tall and weighs approximately 23 metric tons.
The first half of 2022 saw more commercial travelers — 16 — launch into space than the 10 professional astronauts who work for government-run space agencies. However, those numbers come with an asterisk or two.
Four of the 14 astronauts who launched into orbit flew on Axiom Space’s privately funded and operated crew flight to the International Space Station (ISS). Blue Origin launched 12 individuals into space on two flights of the company’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle.
The other 10 astronauts who launched to ISS and the Tiangong space station worked fulltime for NASA, European Space Agency (ESA), China Manned Space Agency, or Russia’s Roscosmos State Space Corporation. SpaceX flew American and European astronauts to ISS on the company-owned Crew Dragon spacecraft under a NASA contract. The Russians and Chinese flew aboard government-owned and operated spacecraft.
Update: Wentian docked with the space station early Monday morning Beijing time after a 13-hour flight.
China launched the 23-metric ton Wentian module on Sunday as the first step in expanding the nation’s first permanent space station.
The 17.9 meter long is headed for a docking with the station’s Tianhe core module that is currently occupied by the Shenzhou-14 crew of Chen Dong, Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe.
Wentian includes laboratory equipment for life sciences, biotechnology and variable gravity experiments. The module also has 22 external mounting devices that will allow for the attachment of unpressurized experiments. Wentian features a robotic arm that is half the size as the one mounted on the outside of the Tianhe core module.
Wentian includes three sleeping berths, a kitchen and a toilet to accommodate the expansion of the station’s full-time complement from three to six taikonauts. The module will provide additional propulsion, control and avionics to back up the Tianhe core. Wentian is powered by two solar panels.
China will launch the Mengtian laboratory module in October to complete initial assembly of the space station. Mengtian is similar in size and design to Wentian.
It was a busy first half of 2022 that saw 77 orbital launches with 74 successes and three failures through the 182nd day of the year on July 1. At a rate of one launch every 2 days 8 hours 44 minutes, the world is on track to exceed the 146 launches conducted in 2021.
A number of significant missions were launched during a period that saw more than 1,000 satellite launched. SpaceX flew the first fully commercial crewed mission to the International Space Station (ISS), Boeing conducted an orbital flight test of its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, China prepared to complete assembly of its space station, South Korea launched its first domestically manufactured rocket, and Rocket Lab sent a NASA mission to the moon.
Three Chinese astronauts arrived at the nation’s first permanent space station on Sunday, beginning a busy six-month mission during which initial assembly of the orbital facility will be completed.
Chinese astronauts Chen Dong, Liu Yang, and Cai Xuzhe lifted off aboard the Shenzhou-14 spacecraft at 10:44 a.m. local time (10:44 p.m. EDT on Saturday) from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The Long March-2F rocket placed the crew transport into orbit, where they automatically docked with the Tiangong station seven hours after liftoff.
The crew will be on board when the Wentian and Mengtian science modules are launched later this year. The flights will complete the initial assembly of the t-shaped station. The Shenzhou-15 crew will then launch, expanding the station contingent to 6 astronauts, Chinese officials said.
This launch is the 423rd launch of the Long March series of launch vehicles.
BEIJING (CASC PR) — On June 4, the press conference of the Shenzhou 14 manned flight mission announced that, after the research and decision of the General Headquarters of the space station phase flight mission, the aim was to use the Long March 2F carrier rocket to launch the Shenzhou 14 at 10:44 [02:44 UTC Sunday/10:44 p.m. EDT on Saturday] on June 5. The three astronauts Chen Dong, Liu Yang, and Cai Xuzhe will carry out the Shenzhou 14 manned mission, with Chen Dong as the commander.
China has rolled out the Long March-2F rocket that it will use to send a new three-member crew of astronauts to the nation’s space station. The launch of the as-yet unidentified astronauts aboard Shenzhou-14 could take place from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China as early as Sunday, June 5.
The crew will spend a busy six months in space during which time China will complete initial assembly of the station. The Wentian laboratory module will be launched in July to join the Tianhe core module. The Mengtian laboratory module is scheduled for launch in October.
Vowing that cooperation in space with the West will resume on Russia’s terms, Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin said the space corporation is eyeing cooperation on China’s space station and begun efforts to replace the American Global Positioning System (GPS) in airplanes with Russian GLONASS satellite navigation system that is also capable of receiving navigation signals from China’s Beidou satellite constellation.
Rogozin also said Roscosmos plans to begin shipments of silo-based hypersonic Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in the fall amid continued tensions with the West over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The rocket was successfully test fired on Wednesday.
Three Chinese astronauts returned to Earth in their Shenzhou-13 spacecraft on Saturday after spending six months aboard the nation’s first permanent space station.
Zhai Zhigang, Ye Guangfu and Wang Yaping landed in the Gobi Desert after 182 days in space. It was the longest Chinese crewed mission to date, nearly doubling the three months the crew of Shezhou-12 spent aboard the space station launched last April.