Core module of China’s space station.
Credit: CMS/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China appears to be on the verge of a one-two punch in both the country’s human space flight program as well as its robotic planetary exploration plans.

Before the end of June, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) notes it anticipates the lofting of the 20-metric-ton core space station module, Tianhe, or Harmony of Heaven.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Also, China is targeting an attempted landing on Mars in May-June with the Tianwen-1’s lander/rover – the country’s first independent mission to the Red Planet.

Construction begins

The core module of China’s space station is slated for liftoff before the end of June. It will start the construction of the nation’s largest space-based asset, according to the China Manned Space Agency.

China’s space station expected to be completed around 2022.
CMS/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Tianhe is nearly 55 feet (16.6 meters) long and has a diameter of 14 feet (4.2 meters). It has three parts – a connecting section, a life-support and control section along with a resources section.

This module will be central to space station operations. Crews will live there and control the entire facility from inside. The module will also be tasked with hosting scientific experiments.

Credit: CMS/CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab


Sequential launches

To piece together China’s space station in rapid fashion, the nation will sequentially launch the Tianhe core capsule, Wentian and Mengtian lab modules. In addition, four Shenzhou crew-carrying spacecrafts and four Tianzhou cargo spacecrafts will also be lofted to establish a rotation of astronauts to work on the space station and supply goods to sustain station operations.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Four groups of astronauts have been selected for the space station’s construction and are now undergoing training.

The entire station — with a combined weight of more than 90 tons — is expected to become fully operational in 2022 and is set to operate for about 15 years, Chinese space officials have stated.

A color image taken by the Tianwen-1 orbiter’s medium-resolution camera is of Mars’ north pole region. Credit: CNSA

Mars probing mission

Meanwhile, China’s Tianwen-1 Mars mission is presently circuiting the Red Planet and is busily imaging the Martian landscape. The 5-metric ton, multi-part probe consists of an orbiter and a landing capsule that carries a rover.

Tianwen-1 entered its preset Mars parking orbit on February 24 and is expected to fly in this orbit for about three months prior to releasing its landing capsule in May or June.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

All of the orbiter’s seven payloads are gradually coming on-line, activated during the probe’s stay in its parking orbit. One early task of the orbiter is to observe and analyze the landforms and weather conditions of the optimal landing site.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

New imagery

Recently released images from the Tianwen-1 orbiter show noteworthy geographical features of the Red Planet, reports Liu Tongjie, deputy director of the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center under CNSA and spokesman of China’s first Mars exploration mission.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

These images include two panchromatic images and one color image, said the CNSA.

“In the images, Martian landforms such as small craters, mountain ridges and dunes are clearly visible. One of the images captured an impact crater with a diameter of around 620 meters. The lines at the bottom of the crater are clearly seen,” Liu told China Central Television (CCTV).

A color image taken by the orbiter’s medium-resolution camera is of Mars’ north pole region.

“This image shows a large area of Mars at a distance of about 5,000 kilometers. The spiral structure is Mars’ north polar cap. It’s a spiral structure created by years of deposition and ablation — huge dust storms on Mars often originate in the polar regions, the north and south poles. So these locations may serve as vantage points for us to monitor the formation of dust storms,” Li Chunlai, deputy chief designer of China’s first Mars exploration mission and deputy director of the National Astronomical Observatories of China told CCTV.

Go to these CCTV video showing recently-captured images of Mars by the Tianwen-1 orbiter at:

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