State television broadcast the launch live, showing a rocket roaring into a gray layer of clouds above Hainan Island in southernmost China, with the module aboard. Deng Hongqin, the director of the launch command center, announced after 14 minutes that the module was in orbit.
Nearly 59 feet long and weighing 23 tons, the module, called Mengtian, was expected to dock with the Tiangong space station about 13 hours after launch. The module carries a wide range of experimental equipment, including extremely accurate atomic clocks and gear designed to create the coldest conditions ever achieved by humanity.
Yang Hong, the space station’s chief designer, said at a news conference in April that the Mengtian module would be equipped with a cargo airlock. Outside the airlock will be a platform on which experiments can be mounted, with robotic arms to help carry them out, he said. The module will supply the space station with racks of additional laboratory equipment and give the astronauts more room to operate.
And in July, after China launched the Wentian module, much of the booster burned up over the Sulu Sea, southeast of the Philippines.
The China Manned Space Agency said in an online statement that it had made adjustments to the Long March 5B used for the launch on Monday. But those changes involved putting the Mengtian module into orbit more accurately, not guiding the booster back to earth.
The Mengtian module is designed to function in space for 10 years, state television said. One of its first experiments will involve testing how seeds grow after being exposed to microgravity and the radiation of space. Chinese scientists also plan to use it to study how spiders spin webs in free fall, an experiment that has also been performed aboard the International Space Station.
Li You contributed research.