China adds a new science lab to its space station

China on Monday added a laboratory to its permanently orbiting space station as it prepares to complete the structure in the coming months.

Wentian’s lab was launched from the Wenchang space base in the tropical island province of Hainan on Sunday as a crowd of amateur photographers and space enthusiasts looked on.

After 13 hours of flight, it successfully docked with the Tianhe living area of ​​the Tiangong space station at 03:13 a.m. Monday (1913 GMT), according to the China Manned Space Agency.

Photos distributed by the Xinhua News Agency later showed the three astronauts inside the expanded space station.

The 21-ton Wentian lab is designed for science and biological experiments and is heavier than any single-module spacecraft currently in space, according to state-owned Global Times.

Three astronauts who began their six-month mission aboard the space station last month oversaw Wentian’s arrival and docking.

A second laboratory segment, the Mengtian, is to be launched in October and will complement the space station.

A Long March 5B-Y3 rocket, China’s most powerful, carried the lab module in the third such launch since China’s space station entered its construction phase. It was preceded by the Tianzhou-class cargo spacecraft and the Shenzhou-14 crewed spacecraft.

China’s space program is run by the ruling Communist Party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army, and has largely continued the Tiangong program without help from other nations. The United States barred China from the International Space Station because of its military ties.

China launched its first astronaut into orbit in 2003, making it the third country to do so alone after the former Soviet Union and the United States. Its space program landed robot rovers on the moon and placed one on Mars last year. China has also returned lunar samples, and officials have discussed a possible crewed mission to the Moon.