Tianhe core module


Tianhe Core Module Rendering 01.png
Rendering of Tianhe core module with the robotic arm at docking position.
Module statistics
COSPAR ID2021-035A
Part ofTiangong
Launch date29 April 2021, 03:23:15 UTC[1]
Launch vehicleLong March 5B (Y2)
Mass22,600 kg (49,800 lb) [2][3][4][5]
Length16.6 m (54 ft) [6]
Width4.2 m (14 ft) [6]
Literal meaningHeaven-Peace (or Heavenly Harmony)

Tianhe (Chinese: 天和; pinyin: Tiānhé; lit. 'Harmony of the Heavens'),[7][8] officially the Tianhe core module (Chinese: 天和号核心舱), is the first module to launch of the Tiangong space station. It was launched into orbit on 29 April 2021,[1] as the first launch of the final phase of Tiangong program, part of the China Manned Space Program (Project 921).[3][5]

Tianhe follows in the footsteps of Salyut, Skylab, Mir, International Space Station, Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2 space stations.[9] It is the first module of a third-generation Chinese modular space station. Other examples of modular station projects include the Soviet/Russian Mir, Russian OPSEK, and the International Space Station. Operations will be controlled from the Beijing Aerospace Flight Control Center.[5]

In 2018, a fullscale mockup of Tianhe was publicly presented at China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai.[10][11] In October 2020, China selected 18 new astronauts ahead of the space station construction to participate in the country's space station project.[12]

Functions and systems

The core module provides life support and living quarters for three crew members, and provides guidance, navigation, and orientation control for the station. The module also provides the station's power, propulsion, and life support systems. The module consists of three sections: the habitable living quarter, the non-habitable service section, and a docking hub.[5] Overall, the living quarters has a volume of 50 cubic meters of habitable space for three people, compared to only 15 m3 for Tiangong-1.[13]

The living quarters will include a kitchen and toilet, fire control equipment, air processing and control equipment, computers, scientific apparatus, and ground communications equipment.[5] Similar to the MIR Lyappa arm, the station has a bigger robotic arm, so it can move subsequent modules to different ports of the core module.[5][14] Also, this ″Chinarm″ had modern mobility, can be elongated and features 7 axes of motion to crawl.[15] According to the latest reports, its design is more like Canadarm 2. [16]

Electrical power is provided by two steerable solar power arrays, which uses photovoltaic cells to produce electricity. Energy is stored to power the station when it moves into the Earth's shadow. Tianzhou resupply ships will replenish fuel for the module's propulsion engines for station-keeping to counter the effects of atmospheric drag.[17] There are 4 ion engines for propulsion.[18]


Panel views of the Chinese Tianhe space station core module
Tianhe core module being tested on the ground.

Wang Wenbao, director of the human spaceflight agency China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO), said China has established "a good working relationship" with space agencies in Russia, France, Germany and other countries.[19][20] With a long history of technology transfer with Russia, Chinese space assets are compatible with Russian orbital hardware. The MARS-500 collaborative study between China, Russia and Europe prepares for a crewed mission to Mars.[21]

The forward docking hub allows the core module to be docked with four other space station visiting spacecraft, including two experimental modules, a cargo ship Tianzhou spacecraft, and a Shenzhou spacecraft.[14] The axial (forward-facing) and nadir (Earth-facing) port of the module will be fitted with rendezvous equipment. A mechanical arm similar to the Russian Lyappa arm used on the Mir space station will be fitted to each of the future experiment modules. The axial port on the docking hub will be the primary docking port. When new modules arrive, they will first dock here, then the mechanical arm will attach and move the module to a radial port. Crew and supply ships from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center will dock to either of the axial ports of the module, as well as the nadir port. The zenith (space facing) port has been modified to act as the station’s extravehicular activity (EVA) hatch, as the spherical docking hub is also the EVA airlock.[14]

The first generation space stations such as Salyut 1 and NASA's Skylab stations were not designed for re-supply, while Salyut 6, Salyut 7 and Mir had more than one docking port and were designed to be resupplied routinely during crewed operation.[22] The TCM as a modular station can allow the mission to be changed over time, and new modules can be added or removed from the existing structure, allowing greater flexibility.[23] It is designed for replenishment of consumables and has a service life of at least 10 years.[14][24]

The length of the module is 16.6 m (54 ft). It is cylindrical with a maximum diameter of 4.2 m (14 ft) and an on-orbit mass of 22,600 kg (49,800 lb).[6]


Launch of Tianhe

On 14 January 2021, CMSEO announced the beginning of the construction phase for China's three-module space station. The core module, Tianhe, passed a flight acceptance review. This core module provides living space and life support for astronauts and houses the outpost's power and propulsion elements.[25][26]

Tianhe launched on 29 April 2021, at 03:23:15 UTC atop a Long March 5B launch vehicle from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site.[6] After the core module was put into orbit, the empty first stage of its launch vehicle entered a temporary, uncontrolled failing orbit.[27] Some concerns were raised over possible damage from debris of the uncontrolled re-entry: observations showed the rocket was tumbling, which complicates predictions about an eventual landing area, although the most likely outcome was a maritime impact. Parallels were made with respect to a previous launch in May 2020[28] which reportedly caused some damage in the Côte d'Ivoire.[29] The rocket re-entered over the Arabian peninsula on 9 May at 02:24 UTC,[30] landing in the Indian Ocean west of the Maldives according to the China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO), with much of it having reportedly burned up prior to impact.[note 1] United States Space Command confirmed the re-entry location.[31][note 2]

The first spacecraft scheduled that visited the Tianhe core module was the Tianzhou 2 cargo resupply spacecraft on 29 May 2021, followed by Shenzhou 12, carrying a crew of three to the station on 17 June 2021.[1] Tianzhou 3 and Shenzhou 13 are also scheduled to visit the station in September and October 2021 respectively.[33][34]

See also


  1. ^ China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO) reported landing coordinates are 72.47 degrees of longitude east and 2.65 degrees of latitude north – 2°39′N 72°28′E / 2.65°N 72.47°E / 2.65; 72.47.[31][30]
  2. ^ 'Space-Track.org', on its Twitter feed, stated that based on data from the 18th Space Control Squadron of the United States Space Force, the CZ-5B core stage that launched the Tianhe core module fell into the Indian Ocean north of the Maldives.[32]


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  2. ^ "China expects to complete space station by 2023". China Daily. 25 September 2013. Retrieved 29 June 2016.
  3. ^ a b "中国载人航天工程标识及空间站、货运飞船名称正式公布" [CMSE logo and space station and cargo ship name officially announced] (in Chinese). China Manned Space Engineering Office. 31 October 2013. Retrieved 29 June 2016.
  4. ^ Ping, Wu (June 2016). "China Manned Space Programme: Its Achievements and Future Developments" (PDF). China Manned Space Engineering Office. Retrieved 28 June 2016.
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  8. ^ "Planned space station details made public". China Daily. 26 April 2018. The core module, Tianhe, or Harmony of Heavens
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  11. ^ "天和一号核心舱(TianHe-1)" [TianHe core module (TianHe-1)]. chinaspaceflight.com (in Chinese). 7 June 2016. Retrieved 30 June 2016.
  12. ^ "China selects 18 new astronauts ahead of space station construction". SpaceNews. 2 October 2020. Retrieved 4 October 2020.
  13. ^ Clark, Stephen. "Assembly of Chinese space station begins with successful core module launch – Spaceflight Now".
  14. ^ a b c d "China launches Tianhe module, start of ambitious two-year station construction effort". NASASpaceFlight.com. 28 April 2021. Retrieved 1 May 2021.
  15. ^ "China's Tiangong Space Station robotic arm revealed".
  16. ^ 刘明. "Robotic arm utilizes top technologies". www.chinadaily.com.cn. Retrieved 8 July 2021.
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  18. ^ "China's New Space Station is Powered by Ion Thrusters".
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  27. ^ Clark, Stephen (9 May 2020). "U.S. military tracking unguided re-entry of large Chinese rocket". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 12 February 2021.
  28. ^ Smith, Adam (4 May 2021). "Chinese rocket "tumbling to Earth" and could land anywhere". The Independent. Retrieved 5 May 2021. There are fears that the rocket could land on an inhabited area; the last time a Long March rocket was launched in May 2020, debris was reported falling on villages in the Ivory Coast. The speed of the rocket means scientists still do not yet know when it will fall, but it is likely to do so before 10 May 2021.
  29. ^ "Ivory Coast villagers in shock after they find a debris that fell from the sky". Daily Nation. May 2020. Retrieved 4 May 2021.
  30. ^ a b China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO) (9 May 2021). "长征五号B遥二运载火箭末级残骸已再入大气层". Archived from the original on 9 May 2021.
  31. ^ a b "'Irresponsible': Nasa chides China as rocket debris lands in Indian Ocean". The Guardian. Reuters. 9 May 2021. Retrieved 9 May 2021.
  32. ^ "@18SPCS confirms that CZ-5B ..." Twitter. 8 May 2021. Retrieved 9 May 2021.
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  34. ^ "长征二号F/G Y13 • 神舟十三号载人飞船 • LongMarch 2F/G Y13 • Shenzhou-13". spaceflightfans.cn (in Chinese). 21 April 2021. Retrieved 25 April 2021.

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