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China launched the third and final Mengtian module for a permanent space station from the Wenchang Space Center in Hainan Province at 3:39 AM ET on Monday.
Mengtian will join Wentian as the second laboratory module for the station, collectively known as Tiangong or Heavenly Palace. Both are connected to the main Tianhe module, where the crew lives and works.
The Mengtian module was launched aboard a Long March-5B Y4 launch vehicle. According to the Chinese Space Agency, the module had to spend 13 hours in flight before reaching Tiangong, which was inhabited by a crew of three astronauts.
Astronauts Chen Dong, Cai Xiuzhe, and Liu Yang arrived in early June for a six-month stay on board, during which they will complete station assembly, conduct spacewalks, and conduct additional experiments.
After Mengtian's arrival, next an additional cargo ship, Tianzhou, is scheduled to dock at the station next month, and another crewed mission is scheduled for December, when crews can overlap, as Tiangong has enough space to accommodate six astronauts.
Mengtian will provide space for scientific experiments in zero gravity, a space vacuum gateway, and a small robotic arm to support payloads in outer space. Already in orbit, the 23-ton Wentian Lab is dedicated to scientific and biological experiments.
China plans to launch the Xuntian Space Telescope next year, which, although not part of Tiangong, will orbit the station in series with the station and may dock with it for maintenance from time to time.
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