China aims to surpass a new national launch record set last year and also complete its three-module space station with six linked missions in 2022.
The National Space Administration of China is preparing to launch two new space station modules, named Wentian and Mengtian, on separate Long March 5B rockets in the coming months.
The modules will dock with the Tianhe main module launched in April 2021 to complete the Tiangong T-space station before the end of the year.
Preparations for both missions are progressing well. The third Long March 5B rocket has completed final assembly and testing and will be launched by Wentian around the middle of the year. According to the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), the fourth Long March 5B Y4 is undergoing final assembly and will launch Mengtian in the second half of 2022.
The two modules weigh over 44,100 pounds (20,000 kg) each and are primarily intended for scientific experiments. Wentian also has new EVA airlocks and will also add a second, smaller robotic arm to the space station.
The large robotic arm on the Tianhe will grab and move new modules into place after they dock with the Tianhe.
“Once the T-structure is formed, we will fully test the functions and performance of the space station as a whole. We estimate that the space station will enter the operational phase at the end of the year,” Bai Linhou, Space Station. deputy chief system designer of the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), told CCTV.
The Wentian, or Experimental Module I, will serve as a back-up to the main Tianhe module to improve the reliability and redundancy of the space station.
China will also launch two Tianzhou cargo spacecraft and two crewed Shenzhou missions as part of six space station missions planned for 2022.
According to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), China plans to launch 140 spacecraft in 2022 over 50 launches. In 2021, CASC launched 48 Long March rockets.
Other notable missions include the second launch of Long March 8 without side boosters from Wenchang and the first launch of Long March 6A. China's commercial and private launch companies will also help increase launch speed.
China is expected to have its first crew change in late 2022, with two crewed spacecraft in orbit at the same time. Shenzhou 15 will be launched and docked with Tianhe at the end of the year, joining Shenzhou 14's crew on board. This will mean that China will have six astronauts in orbit at the same time.
There is also good news for the crew of the ongoing Shenzhou 13 mission. Astronauts Zhai Zhigang, Wang Yaping and Ye Guangfu will make the first "fast" return to Earth in Shenzhou, which means the crew should land just a few hours after undocking from Tianhe. rather than spending 24 hours or more aboard your Shenzhou return capsule.
Shenzhou 13 was launched on Long March 2F from Jiuquan Space Center on October 16, 2021. Another Long March 2F, the 14th in the series, was in a state of almost full readiness in case of an emergency on board the Tianhe.
Assuming the Shenzhou 13 mission is completed safely, around March or April, the 14th Long March 2F will later launch Shenzhou 14 after delivering supplies aboard the Tianzhou 4 cargo spacecraft.
The 15th Long March 2F Regiment will then be prepared in Jiuquan for emergency reserve. “The Y15 rocket is being tested for final assembly in the workshop, and after all work is completed, it will be delivered to the Jiuquan launch site for launch,” said Jing Muchun, chief designer of the Long March 2F.