The Tianhe module will act as the management and control hub of the space station Tiangong, with a node that could dock with up to three spacecraft at a time for short stays, or two for long, said Bai Linhou, deputy chief designer of the space station at the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST).
Tianhe has a total length of 16.6 meters, a maximum diameter of 4.2 meters, and a takeoff mass of 22.5 tonnes, and is the largest spacecraft developed by China.
The space station will be a T shape with the core module at the center and a lab capsule on each side. Each module will be over 20 tonnes. When the station docks with both manned and cargo spacecraft, its weight could reach nearly 100 tonnes.
This is cool. A 3D/VR version of the completed Chinese Space Station in which you can wander around through Tianhe, the experiment modules, docking hub and Shenzhou. From China's human spaceflight agency. https://t.co/2jYcIt7Rf9pic.twitter.com/KoQsYaH1ml
The station will operate in the low-Earth orbit at an altitude from 340 km to 450 km. It has a designed lifespan of 10 years, but experts believe it could last more than 15 years with appropriate maintenance and repairs.
"We will learn how to assemble, operate and maintain large spacecraft in orbit, and we aim to build Tiangong into a state-level space lab supporting the long stay of astronauts and large-scale scientific, technological, and application experiments," said Bai.
The station will contribute to the peaceful development and utilization of space resources through international cooperation, as well as to enrich technologies and experience for China's future explorations into deeper space.