Wen-tchien (space station module)


August 14, 2022

Wen-tchien (Chinese Pinyin Wèn Tiān, characters 問天; Czech Hledání nebes; English transliteration: Wentian) is a laboratory module of the Chinese Tiankung Space Station (TSS). It was launched on July 24, 2022, and after thirteen hours docked with the module of the Tianjin-che station, which has been in orbit since April 2021 and forms the core of the TSS.


Wen-tchien is a cylindrical, slightly tapering body 17.9 meters long, with a maximum outer diameter of 4.2 meters. Of the starting weight of around 23 tons, around 1550 kg of propellant was made up. The module has a total of 36 thrusters, of which 4 larger ones are intended for orbital maneuvers when the module arrives at the station and the remaining 32 are intended for fine attitude control. The TSS module contributes two pairs of photovoltaic panels to the electrical system, the total span of which after full expansion exceeds 50 meters and the area of ​​each of the two panels is about 110 m2. The module has three basic parts - a residential section, a cargo section and a control section. The cargo section also contains a transition chamber for exits to the free space. The service section contains all the equipment needed to control the module on arrival at the TSS including propellant tanks and solar panels. All equipment, including navigation avionics, propulsion and orientation control, will serve as a backup to the Tchien-che main module after connection. The living section offers researchers aboard the station 50 cubic meters of additional interior space including 3 sleeping quarters and a new toilet. The possibilities of carrying out scientific experiments, focused especially on life sciences research in space, are being significantly expanded, both in the pressurized environment inside the station and on its outer surface, so that samples and instruments are exposed to the space environment, cosmic rays, vacuum and solar wind (there are 22 standard adapters per cargo section and control section to accommodate external experiments and external experiments, plus 2 for larger equipment). The module also provides the station with additional navigation avionics, propulsion and orientation control as backup functions to the main module. Wen-tchien also includes a small 5-meter robotic arm. It is a supplement to the large ten-meter arm on the Tian-che module, and although it has only one-eighth the load capacity compared to it, it has 5 times better positional accuracy. Therefore, it will primarily serve to move experiments and place them precisely in the adapters on the outside of the module. Using a special adapter, it will be possible to connect the arms from both modules and use them together.

Flight progress

The module was launched on July 24, 2022 at 06:22.32.057 UTC on a Changcheng (Long March) 5B rocket from Launch Pad 101 of the Wenchang Cosmodrome. After reaching orbit, the module approached the TSS with its own 4 main and 32 guidance engines and docked with the forward port of the Tchien-che module at 19:13 UTC. It is the base module of the TSS and is inhabited by the three-man crew of the attached ship Shenzhou 14, which also includes the cargo ship Tianzhou 4. The crew first entered the Wen-tchien module on July 25, 2022 at 02:03 UTC. In the coming weeks, the module will be moved to the starboard docking port using a robotic arm located on the Tchien-che module. The full integration of Wen-tchien with the Tian-che module will require two to three ascents of the station's crew into free space. The central stage of the Changcheng 5B rocket, which delivered the Wen-tchien module into orbit, was left to its fate and on July 30, 2022 in At 16:51 UTC it entered the atmosphere in the northeastern Indian Ocean in an uncontrolled manner. Its burning wreckage was captured on video from the Malaysian state of Sarawak in the north of the island of Borneo, and on the same island there was t