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China launched the first of two remaining modules on Sunday needed to complete its first permanent orbiting space station.
A Long March-5B Y3 rocket carrying China’s space station lab module Wentian blasted off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on Sunday in the Hainan Province of China.
Wentian, which means “quest for the heavens,” was the second of three modules planned by China. China’s state-owned CCTV provided a live feed of the launch, declaring it a “complete success,” according to Reuters.
The last remaining launch, called Mengtian, is scheduled for October. The first module, called Tianhe, was launched in April 2021.
When completed, the three modules will become the T-shaped Tiangong Space Station. The station will be much smaller than the International Space Station but large enough to hold six crew members for a temporary period.
The first crew to board the new space station is expected to launch in December.
The developments have taken some by surprise but have been in the works for years. The Tiangong Space Station project reaches back to 1992 when the nation’s government first approved the plan.
Once fully constructed, the station is expected to operate for at least a decade, with planned rotations of six months for three astronauts at a time. The plans might also allow visits by astronauts from other nations and space tourists.
Another long-term goal of the Tiangong Space Station will be to serve as the refueling station for an upcoming Hubble-like telescope that China hopes to launch in 2024.
The launch of the new Chinese space station module is not the only space project planned for the nation. Last month, the BBC reported that China has plans to put its first astronauts on the Moon and send a Mars sample return rover to the red planet by 2030.
The news also comes alongside several recent space developments. NASA announced on Wednesday the planned launch dates for its Artemis I rocket test flight around the Moon as it prepares for a future human mission to the lunar surface in 2025.
The date of August 29 will serve as the earliest placeholder time for the uncrewed flight to orbit the Moon, according to the NASA teleconference with the media.
“The first in a series of increasingly complex missions, Artemis I will be an uncrewed flight test that will provide a foundation for human exploration in deep space and demonstrate our commitment and capability to extend human existence to the Moon and eventually Mars,” according to a statement from NASA.