China launched the second of three modules of its Tiangong space station into space on Sunday, which is expected to be fully operational by the end of the year.
Equipped with three sleeping areas, toilets and a kitchen, the machine, baptized
Wentian will serve as a backup platform to control the station in the event of a failure.
The laboratory module also has spaces for scientific experiments and includes an airlock that will become the preferred passage for spacewalks.
On Monday, just hours after the spacecraft docked at the station, three Chinese astronauts from the Shenzhou-14 mission were able to enter the module.
The crew is seen opening an airlock and gaining weightless access to Wentian, according to Chinese television CCTV footage.
The three astronauts, including a woman, arrived in June in the space station, for a mission of approximately six months. They are due to host the station’s third and final module, Mengtian, in October.
The station will then have its final T-shaped shape. It will be similar in size to the defunct Russian-Soviet Mir station. Its life should be at least 10 years.
The completion of Tiangong will also allow China to perform, for the first time, a crew relay in orbit.
This relay should take place in December, when the astronauts of the Shenzhou-14 mission, currently in the space station, will give way to those of Shenzhou-15.
China has been investing billions of euros in its space program for several decades.
The Asian giant sent its first astronaut into space in 2003. The country placed a machine on the far side of the Moon in early 2019, a world first.
In 2020, China brought back samples from the Moon and finalized Beidou, its satellite navigation system, a competitor to the American GPS.
In 2021, she landed a small robot on Mars, and she plans to send men to the Moon by 2030.
Next year, the Asian giant plans to launch a space telescope whose field of view will be 350 times greater than that of Hubble, the legendary NASA space telescope launched in 1990 and still in operation.