China to launch Heavenly Harmony space station core module

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, the core module of China's space station, Tianhe, on the the Long March-5B Y2 rocket is moved to the launching area of the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in southern China's Hainan Province on April 23, 2021. China plans to launch the core module for its first permanent space station this week in the latest big step forward for the countrys space exploration program. The Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony  module is set to be hurtled into space aboard a Long March 5B rocket from the Wenchang Launch Center on the southern island of Hainan. The launch could come as early as Thursday night, April 29, 2021 if all goes as planned.  (Guo Wenbin/Xinhua via AP)
In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, the core module of China's space station, Tianhe, on the the Long March-5B Y2 rocket is moved to the launching area of the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in southern China's Hainan Province on April 23, 2021. China plans to launch the core module for its first permanent space station this week in the latest big step forward for the countrys space exploration program. The Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony module is set to be hurtled into space aboard a Long March 5B rocket from the Wenchang Launch Center on the southern island of Hainan. The launch could come as early as Thursday night, April 29, 2021 if all goes as planned. (Guo Wenbin/Xinhua via AP) (Xinhua)

BEIJING – China plans to launch the core module for its first permanent space station this week in the latest big step forward for the country’s space exploration program.

The Tianhe, or “Heavenly Harmony” module is set to be hurtled into space aboard a Long March 5B rocket from the Wenchang Launch Center on the southern island of Hainan. The launch could come as early as Thursday night if all goes as planned.

It would be the first of 11 missions to build and supply the space station for a three-person crew.

Here's a look at the planned launch and the past and future of China's space program.

11 MISSIONS PLANNED TO COMPLETE SPACE STATION BY END OF 2022

Another 10 launches will send up two more modules; four cargo supply shipments and four missions with crews. At least 12 astronauts are training to fly to and live in the station, including veterans of previous flights, newcomers and women.

When completed by late 2022, Tianhe is expected to weigh about 66 tons, a fraction the size of the International Space Station, which launched its first module in 1998 and will weigh about 450 tons when completed. Tianhe will have a docking port and will also be able to connect with a powerful Chinese space satellite. Theoretically, it could be expanded with more modules.

Tianhe's main module will initially be about the size of the American Skylab space station of the 1970s and the former Soviet/Russian Mir, which operated for more than 14 years after launching in 1986.