High-definition images of China’s space station were taken by the departing Shenzhou-16 crew last October 30.
Image credit: CMS

China’s now orbiting Shenzhou-18 crew onboard the country’s Tiangong space station have completed the assembly, testing and outside attachment of a second material exposure experiments.

The three Chinese astronauts — Ye Guangfu, Li Cong and Li Guangsu — were sent to the space station for a six-month mission on April 25.

A tribology experiment box for solid-liquid compound lubrication is one of the major facilities on the station used for scientific research. The focus of the investigation is “super-lubrication” or zero-wear in mechanical movement in the brutal space environment.

Extended service life

China’s Shenzhou-18 crew.
Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

According to China Central Television (CCTV), a variety of lubricants have been used in space, applied to moving components of spacecraft and the space station, including solar arrays and antenna systems, thereby extending the service life of spacecraft.

Exposing lubricants and testing equipment to space can better test their reliability, as the experimental environment in space has complexities that can’t be simulated in a terrestrial laboratory, explained Wang Desheng, a researcher at the Lanzhou Institute of Chemical Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in northwestern China to CCTV.

Wang Desheng. Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“Environmental factors for space science experiments include ultra-high vacuum, high and low temperature alternation, and space radiation environments such as microgravity, and atomic oxygen irradiation in particular, are important to study the damage patterns to lubricating materials,” said Wang.

Technical reserves

The institute’s Cai Meirong added that they will study the samples in the laboratory to build technical reserves for future research and development of lubricating materials with longer service life and higher reliability.

Cai Meirong. Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“We will analyze the structural and physicochemical properties of a sample, including its viscosity, thermal stability and other property changes, and observe whether there is any change in its structure and physicochemical properties in the space environment,” Cai told CCTV.

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