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China added a laboratory to its permanent orbiting space station on Monday, on track to complete the structure in the coming months.

The Wentian Laboratory launched from the Wenchang Space Base in the tropical island province of Hainan on Sunday with a large crowd of amateur photographers and space enthusiasts.

After a 13-hour flight, it successfully docked at the Tianhe habitable zone of the Tiangong space station at 03:13 (1913 GMT) on Monday, according to the China Manned Space Agency.

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

The 23-ton Wentian laboratory is designed for science and biology experiments and is heavier than any other single-module spacecraft in space today, according to the state-run Global Times.

A second laboratory segment, Mengtian, will be launched in October. The three astronauts, who began a six-month mission on the space station last month, oversaw the arrival and docking of the Wentian.

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

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

China put its first astronaut into orbit in 2003, becoming the third country to do so on its own after the former Soviet Union and the United States launched their own space programs to land rover robots on the moon and put them on Mars last year. China has also returned lunar samples and officials have discussed a manned mission to the moon.

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China adds science lab to its orbiting space station (2022, July 25)

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