Credit: GLOBALink/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China Taikonauts Zhai Zhigang and Wang Yaping completed their extravehicular activities (EVAs) and returned to the space station core module Tianhe in the early hours of Monday, Beijing time.

The two returned to the core module after 6.5 hours of spacewalking duties. Ye Guangfu remained in the cabin and supported the EVAs.

This was the third extravehicular mission conducted during the construction of China’s space station and the first by the Shenzhou-13 crew.

Zhai’s spacewalk signaled his second time performing an EVA. He completed China’s first spacewalk 13 years ago during the Shenzhou-7 mission. In this more recent outing, he installed “foot stoppers” and then performed the EVAs under the assistance of the station’s robotic arm.

Credit: CNSA/China Media Group/CCTV

Robotic arm work

Following her exit of the Tianhe core module, Wang became China’s first woman astronaut to perform an EVA.

The ground control center and the Shenzhou-13 spacewalkers cooperated closely in installing a suspension device and transfer connectors to the robotic arm.

Credit: CNSA/China Media Group/CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“The device installed this time is mainly used for connecting the upper and lower parts of the robotic arm. We made this to prepare for the two parts to carry out combined operation. After being connected, the two parts can form a 15-meter-long robotic arm, which will have a wider working range,” Tang Zixin, monitor of the robotic arm engineering of the space station system at the China Academy of Space Technology under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation told China Central Television (CCTV).

Following two-person EVAs, the trio of taikonauts celebrate.
Credit: CNSA/China Media Group/CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Station orientation

“This time, the Tianhe core module has two cargo crafts docked at the two ends and a manned spacecraft docked radially. The whole structure has changed a lot. Therefore, to prepare for the EVAs, we made special adjustment involving the flying attitude, solar wings, and tilt angle of communication antenna. The core module’s flying attitude was especially designed for this time’s EVAs. The operation was very precise and accurate,” Zhu Guangchen, deputy chief designer of the space station system at the China Academy of Space Technology under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation told CCTV.

China launched the Shenzhou-13 crew on October 16, the trio of taikonauts on a six-month mission to construct its space station, expected to be completed by the end of next year.

China’s space station scheduled to be operational in 2020’s.
Photo credit: CMSA

New lab modules

China is preparing the launch of two lab modules, Wentian and Mengtian. They will first dock with the space station’s core module in the forward direction and then the mechanical arm will move them to both sides of the core module.

Before this milestone, the Shenzhou-13 crew will use the Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft to do a simulative test.

“Tianzhou-2 is now in front of our core module, and then will turn to the side of the core module by the mechanical arm to verify the process of transposition after Wentian module docks with the space station. This is a technique that we must master before the final ‘T’ shape was formed during the assembly phase of the space station,” said Li Xuedong, lead designer of the space station system with the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.

The robotic arm of China’s Tiangong space station seen from Tianhe core module. Credit: Weibo via Twitter

The Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft is expected to complete its mission and undock from the space station early next year. After that, the Shenzhou-13 crew will also complete their mission and return to Earth.

When the Shenzhou-14 crew enters the space station, the country will launch the Wentian module that is outfitted with a special airlock capsule, providing a better environment for crew members to carry out spacewalks. That airlock is larger than the one now being used in the core module. It also has more equipment to facilitate EVAs, Li told CCTV.

A number of videos have been issued documenting the recent spacewalk activities. Go to:

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