China’s space station recently acquired a new module and with it a pair of large, solar energy-capturing “wings” that can spin as the outpost orbits Earth.
A new video from China’s human spaceflight agency, CMSA, shows massive solar arrays rotating around the Tiangong space station as our blue and white planet passes below.
The arrays are part of the Wentian experiment module, which was launched in July. The angle of the panels can also be seen to change to face the sun as the Tiangong space station continues its orbit.
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Wentian’s two solar arrays are about 98 feet (30 meters) tall. Together they have a total wingspan of over 180 feet (55 meters). Each solar panel has a collecting area of about 1,184 square feet (110 square meters).
China plans to launch a third and final Tiangong module in October. Called Mengtian, that experimental module will also carry a pair of large solar arrays similar to Wentian’s.
Three Shenzhou 14 mission astronauts—currently aboard the Tiangong and preparing for the first extravehicular activity, or spacewalk, from the Wentian module—will greet the module.
The solar panels are designed to power the Tiangong space station which China plans to remain permanently inhabited by a rotating crew of three astronauts for more than a decade.
Meanwhile, the older, larger International Space Station has solar arrays with a wingspan of 240 feet (73 meters) to power its activities in orbit.
When completed Tiangong will be about 20% as big as the International Space Station, weighing about 460 tons.
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