China has been working hard to get its first full-time orbiting space station up and running. On Saturday, astronauts conducted the first spacewalk outside of the Tianhe space station to install the equipment required for the long-term operation of the space station. The astronauts opened the hatch and exited the space station at 11 PM Eastern on July 3.
According to the China Manned Space Agency, activities outside the station were completed by 2:57 AM on July 4. Both astronauts wore new-generation Feitian extravehicular activity suits as they worked outside the orbiting space station about 380 kilometers above the earth’s surface. The two astronauts conducting the spacewalk included Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo.
Liu attached the robotic arm to the space station while Tang focused on work along handrails on the outside of the station. Astronauts also installed foot restraints and a work platform on the mechanical arm, along with installing a panoramic camera. A third astronaut, Shenzhou-12 mission commander Nie Haisheng, stayed inside the space station to operating a small robotic arm to assist the spacewalking astronauts.
The spacewalk was China’s second coming 13 years after the first conducted in September 2008. The mission is currently scheduled to last for 90 days, and a second spacewalk is planned before the mission ends. Currently, China’s space station is planned to consist of three modules that will form a T-shaped station. The core module is 16.6-meters long and 4.2 meters in diameter, providing the life support and main living quarters for astronauts. That section also has propulsion to maintain orbital altitude.
Only the core section of the station is in orbit currently, and two other modules called Wentian and Mengtian are expected to launch in 2022. The robotic arm the two astronauts installed will be used to place the new modules in position. The station will be expanded to six modules if main phase construction continues as planned. China also plans to launch a co-orbiting optical telescope around 2024.