A pair of astronauts aboard China’s Tiangong space module have completed a successful spacewalk. The momentous achievement for both the astronauts and China’s manned space program marks another significant milestone for China’s space ambitions for the moon, Mars and beyond.
In June, The Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) launched three astronauts into space. The trio is set to spend around three months aboard the Tianhe module, the centrepiece of the Tiangong Space Station.
On the 3rd of July, pilot Liu Boming exited the module through its hatch door, becoming the first Chinese astronaut to perform a spacewalk since Zhai Zhigang took his epic steps in space in 2008.
Wearing a specialised suit, which reportedly weighs 130kg, Liu was joined by fellow crew member, Tang Hongbo. The third astronaut, Nie Haisheng, assisted from inside the module.
The astronauts conducting the spacewalk were tasked with installing critical equipment to the exterior of the module. Boming and Hongbo used handrails to work their way around the module in zero gravity while Haisheng operated a 10.2-metre robotic arm from inside the craft.
The activity lasted nearly seven hours – the 2008 walk was only around 22 minutes in length. In that time the trio successfully installed a panoramic camera, foot restraints and a working platform attached to the robotic arm. It was the first of two spacewalks planned for their three-month visit aboard Tianhe.
The Tianhe module is the first of three T-shaped core modules that will connect to form the Tiangong superstructure. The 16.6 metre-long modules serve as the primary living quarters for the astronauts. They are equipped with crucial life-support systems as well as propulsion systems to manoeuvre in orbit.
Modules named Wentian and Mengtian are scheduled to launch sometime in 2022 and will be mechanically connected to the core module via Tianhe’s robotic arm. The three-module space station can be expanded to a six-modules and will do so if the initial construction process is successful.
CNSA confirmed that it will conduct 11 more launches in the next 18 months, three of which will be crewed. In 2024, China will launch Xuntian, a Hubble-class telescope that will join Tiangong in orbit.
Not limiting itself to Earth-orbit satellite stations, CNSA is currently conducting a Mars expedition and has unveiled plans to build a lunar base.