China launched the second of three modules to its permanent space station on Sunday, one of the last missions required to finish the orbiting outpost by the end of the year.
The Long March 5B, China’s most potent rocket, lifted off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center on the southern island of Hainan at 2:22 p.m. (0622 GMT) with the 23-ton Wentian (“Quest for the Heavens”) experiment module on board.
Space agency staff, seen on the live feed observing the progress of the launch from a control room, cheered and applauded when the Wentian separated from the rocket about 10 minutes after the launch.
The launch was “a complete success”, CCTV reported shortly after.
China began constructing the space station in April 2021 with the launch of the Tianhe module, the main living quarters, in the first of 11 crewed and uncrewed missions in the undertaking.
Wentian features an airlock cabin that is to be the main exit-entry point for extravehicular activities when the station is completed.
It will also serve as short-term living quarters for astronauts during crew rotations on the station, designed for long-term accommodation of just three astronauts.
Mengtian is expected to be launched in October and, like Wentian, is to dock with Tianhe, forming a T-shaped structure.
The completion of the structure, about a fifth of the International Space Station (ISS) by mass, is a source of pride among ordinary Chinese people and will cap President Xi Jinping’s 10 years as leader of China’s ruling Communist Party.
On board the space station are Shenzhou-14 mission commander Chen Dong and team mates Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe. They are slated to return to Earth in December with the arrival of the Shenzhou-15 crew.