China successfully launched its second module, called Wentian, to the Tiangong space station early Sunday morning (Going through SpaceNews). Wentian blasted off aboard a Long March 5B rocket from the Wenchang Space Launch Site in Hainan, China at 2:22 a.m. ET (2:22 p.m. local time), docking with the Tiangong space station around 1 p.m. later at 3:13 p.m. ET (3:13 a.m. ET). local).
The Wentian module contains equipment that allows Chinese astronauts, also called taikonauts, to perform various scientific experiments while on the station. As noted by The New York Timesthe additional module will also provide three additional sleeping spaces, as well as another airlock that crew members can use to perform spacewalks.
In June, China sent the three-person crew of the Shenzhou 14 to Tiangong to prepare for Wentian’s arrival. Mengtian, the station’s third and final laboratory module, is scheduled to launch on a Long March 5B in October. This will complete the Tiangong space station, forming a T-shaped structure once the final module docks.
There are concerns about where huge Long March 5B rocket will end now that he delivered Wentian, however. While most rockets safely jettison their lower stages into the ocean, this type of rocket does things differently. As SpaceNews note, it delivers its payload by launching its entire first stage into low Earth orbit, with no way to redirect or control its motion as it crashes into Earth.
In 2020, the rocket was blamed for the metal debris that ended up in Côte d’Ivoire. It also made a uncontrolled descent into the Indian Ocean after delivering Tianhe’s core module to space last year.