Shenzhou-13 crew.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab


Life onboard China’s burgeoning space station is captured in newly released videos. The three-person Shenzhou-13 crew was launched October 16: Zhai Zhigang, Ye Guangful, and female taikonaut, Wang Yaping.

Residence for the space trio is the China space station’s core module, Tianhe – the country’s longest human space trek, a six-month stay in Earth orbit.

Female taikonaut, Wang Yaping.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Wang, together with Zhai Zhigang, conducted their mission’s first series of extravehicular activities (EVAs) on November 7 lasting 6.5 hours. The EVAs tested the functions of the China-developed new-generation extravehicular spacesuits, the coordination between the astronauts and the mechanical arm, and the reliability and safety of supporting equipment related to the EVAs, according to the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA).

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

Robotic arm

One key piece of equipment is the nearly 34-foot long (10.2-meters) robotic arm installed on the Tianhe module. It can carry up to 25 tons of weight, consisting of seven joints, two limbs, two sets of extension gears, two sets of end cameras and end effectors (also known as end-of-arm tooling), one set of central controllers, and an elbow camera.

The robotic arm is designed help the taikonauts in their extravehicular activities in the assembly, construction, maintenance, and repair of the space station, and support space applications, according to the space agency.

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

Big arm, small arm

The robotic arm consists of two parts, the “big arm” and the “small arm.” When combined, the relationship between the two parts is similar to a human’s upper and lower arm.

  • big arm is a versatile 10-meter-long robotic arm, and is the key equipment for heavy-lifting jobs, from moving components for installation to carrying astronauts for space walks.
  • small arm is over 16 feet (5 meters) in length. It is scheduled to be installed in a 2022 mission that adds a lab capsule to China’s space station.

During the recent spacewalk, Zhai installed a key component that will be used to connect the two arms on the exterior of the core module.


The two arms consist of several joints that enable the machines to reach different modules of the space station. The development of the arms tapped various industries, from machinery to electronics and optical technologies.

According to Gao Sheng, an engineer in charge of the mechanical arm operation at the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), after connection, the big arm and the small arm will form a combined mechanical arm, attaining an extended range of 48-feet (14.5 meters).

The combined mechanical arm can cover three modules of the space station, inspecting their surface at any time, Gao said.

Go to these videos showcasing life onboard the in-construction space station:

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


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