China successfully launches Wentian module as space station nears completion

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China successfully launched its second module, called Wentian, to the Tiangong space station early Sunday morning (via Space news). Wentian took off aboard a Long March 5B rocket from the Wenchang Space Launch Site in Hainan, China at 2:22 AM ET (14:22 PM local), approximately 13 hours later at 3:13 PM ET (3:13 AM) aboard the Tiangong space station locally).

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The Wentian module contains equipment that allows the Chinese astronauts, also known as taikonauts, to conduct various scientific experiments during their stay at the station. As noted by The New York Timesthe additional module will also provide three additional berths, as well as another airlock that crew members can use to take spacewalks.

In June, China sent the three-man Shenzhou 14 crew to Tiangong to prepare for Wentian’s arrival. Mengtian, the station’s third and final lab module, will launch on a Long March 5B in October. This will complete the Tiangong space station and form a T-shaped structure once the last module is docked.

However, there are some concerns about where the massive Long March 5B rocket will end up now that it has delivered Wentian. While most rockets drop their lower stages safely into the ocean below, this type of rocket does things differently. As Space news notes, it delivers its payload by launching its entire first stage into low Earth orbit, with no way to redirect or control its movement when it crashes into Earth.

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In 2020, the missile was blamed for the metal waste that ended up in Côte d’Ivoire. It also made an uncontrolled descent into the Indian Ocean after it delivered the Tianhe core module into space last year.

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