New footage from China’s space station shows incredible images of Earth as a robotic arm inspects the exterior of the new orbital outpost.
The Tiangong space station currently consists of two modules. The 33-foot-long (10 meters) robotic arm that launched with the Tianhe core module in April 2021 carries a camera that allows it to scan and examine the outside of the station. This includes the new Wentian module, which joined Tianhe in orbit in July of this year.
The new video released this week by China's human spaceflight agency provides various views of the large solar arrays that provide power for Tiangong. Visible features include the orb-like control moment gyroscopes that control the station’s attitude, or orientation, as it orbits Earth.
Seas and clouds can be seen on Earth roughly 236 miles (380 kilometers) below Tiangong. The Shenzhou 14 spacecraft, which carried the current Tiangong crew of Chen Dong, Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe to orbit, is also visible at times.
The inspection work provided a status update of the station and delivered some impressive views. But it also served to confirm that the new Wentian module is ready to move from the forward port on the space station’s docking hub to a lateral port, to which Wentian will be permanently docked.
Wentian will be moved to its assigned docking port before the launch of the third and final module, Mengtian, which is scheduled for October.
Together, Tianhe, Wentian and Mengtian will complete the T-shaped Tiangong space station, which China aims to operate for at least 10 years.
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Andrew is a freelance space journalist with a focus on reporting on China's rapidly growing space sector. He began writing for Space.com in 2019 and writes for SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, New Scientist and others. Andrew first caught the space bug when, as a youngster, he saw Voyager images of other worlds in our solar system for the first time. Away from space, Andrew enjoys trail running in the forests of Finland. You can follow him on Twitter @AJ_FI.